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 March 15, 2023

Under the Supreme Court's 'model' ethics code, Justice Thomas could be sidelined 

Outside interest groups' request for the Supreme Court to adopt a new "model" ethics rule might push Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginni, even farther into the political spotlight, as the Washington Examiner reported.

The proposed recommendations from so-called independent government watchdogs Project on Government Oversight and Lawyers Defending American Democracy would impose "stricter recusal guidelines."

According to a recent NPR report, the guidelines would be so strict that if they had been in effect last year, the high court's eldest Republican-appointed justice, Thomas, would have been barred from participating in a case involving the release of Trump administration records to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

"Such a provision would clearly have forbidden Justice Clarence Thomas from participating" in the 2022 case, NPR's Nina Totenberg reported Thursday.

When the rest of the court refused to grant former President Donald Trump's request to keep those records from being disclosed, Thomas was the sole dissenter.

The materials later revealed Thomas's spouse communicated with top Trump White House officials, showing her calls for them to take actions to block certification of the 2020 election results that cemented President Joe Biden's victory.

The 27-page "Model Code of Conduct for U.S. Supreme Court Justices," published March 9, mentions the word "spouse" 14 times and states on page five that "certain conduct by a Justice's spouse or other close family members would require that Justice to recuse," according to a copy reviewed by the Washington Examiner.

While the article does not identify any justices or their wives, Ginni Thomas, a famous conservative activist and attorney, may bear the brunt of its consequences.

The code would prohibit judges and their immediate family members from "exploiting the judicial position" and "participating in political" action that has the appearance of partisanship.

Fix the Court, a left-wing judicial reform organization that has advocated for term limits for justices, issued a press release in support of the proposals, pointing out that neither the current code for lower court judges nor the proposed Supreme Court code contains an express enforcement mechanism.

"Spouses are mentioned 12 times in the current code for the lower court judges," Fix the Court founder Gabe Roth told the Washington Examiner while highlighting limitations of ensuring the justices and their families follow such a code.

"Two things can be true at the same time: One, there is value in having an ethics code that the justices can measure their behavior against and the public can measure the justices' behavior against. Two, it can be sort of operationally difficult to have a code without having some enforcement mechanism if the code is violated," Roth added.

Simultaneously, justices and their wives, including Chief Justice John Roberts, have been the subject of a number of media headlines in recent months about potential ethics problems.

Due to Jane Roberts' paid employment recruiting attorneys at top companies, Boston-based attorney Kendal Price, an ex-colleague of Roberts's spouse, Jane, recently filed a letter to Congress and the Justice Department asking that the nine-member bench divulge additional information pertaining to their wives' business.

Written By:
Charlotte Tyler

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