Rep. Ocasio-Cortez explains her demand for Justice Thomas to recuse himself from Colorado ballot case

 January 12, 2024

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in February on the Colorado Supreme Court's December ruling to disqualify former President Donald Trump from the state's primary ballot under the 14th Amendment due to his alleged incitement and support of the "insurrection" that was the Jan. 6 Capitol riot of 2021.

If a group of House Democrats that includes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) gets their way, the high court's bench will be one member short when those arguments are heard as they have demanded that conservative Justice Clarence Thomas recuse himself from the case, according to a recent interview of the New York congresswoman on CNN.

Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow Democrats have insisted that Thomas' self-removal from the case is both necessary and required because of his wife's alleged involvement as a conservative activist in organizing the Jan. 6 Capitol protest-turned-riot -- which they view as an anti-government "insurrection" -- as well as her efforts to challenge and overturn the 2020 election results.

House Democrats demand Thomas' recusal

NBC News reported last week that a group of eight House Democrats, led by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), sent a letter to Justice Thomas to urge him to recuse himself from the Supreme Court's Colorado ballot case because of his wife's election-related actions as a conservative activist.

The letter stated that Thomas needed to recuse himself "because your impartiality is reasonably questioned by substantial numbers of fair-minded members of the public, who believe your wife Virginia ('Ginni') Thomas’s substantial involvement in the events leading up to the January 6 insurrection, and the financial incentive it presents for your household if President Trump is re-elected, are disqualifying."

That letter proceeded to portray Mrs. Thomas as some sort of insurrectionist ringleader and election denier who stood poised to enjoy significant financial gains for her consulting firm if Trump won a second term -- all of which the House Democrats asserted was an improper influence upon the justice's thinking and beliefs and disqualified him from any involvement in the case.

"A justice should not sit in judgement of his own wife’s behavior, nor in judgement of his wife’s professional and financial fortunes. Yet that is exactly what you would be doing should you refuse to recuse in this case," the letter concluded. "To protect the Court’s integrity and the legitimacy of its decision in this monumental case, you must recuse yourself."

AOC says it would "be a scandal if he does not recuse himself"

On Tuesday, letter signatory Rep. Ocasio-Cortez joined CNN host Anderson Cooper for an in-studio interview in which she was asked about the House Democratic effort she was part of to try and force Justice Thomas to recuse himself from the Supreme Court's upcoming Colorado ballot case next month.

"I think it is very clear, Clarence Thomas, or rather his wife Ginni, participated in the events of Jan. 6 and now what is likely going before the Supreme Court is the judgment as to whether the event that his wife participated in, that his wife has been investigated by in the Jan. 6 Committee, qualifies as an insurrection," the congresswoman said.

"And Clarence Thomas' decision on that, one way or another, and overall the court's decision on that, would directly implicate his wife," she continued, "and so this is just one of the most classic, textbook conflicts of interest, and it would frankly be a scandal if he does not recuse himself."

It was pointed out that Thomas had recused himself from an earlier case involving former Trump attorney John Eastman, with whom his wife was in close contact after the 2020 election, which Ocasio-Cortez asserted was "precedence" for Thomas' recusal in this case.

Prior precedent suggest Thomas should recuse, AOC says

Ocasio-Cortez further insisted in the interview that despite her lengthy history of rhetorical attacks against the conservative jurist, "this truly is not even about partisan point-scoring" but rather is about "the integrity of the court," and for Justice Thomas to not recuse himself, in this case, would have "larger ramifications" for the court as an institution.

She went on to also assert that prior precedence and the court's own code of conduct left no question that a justice should recuse themself from a case in which their spouse was personally involved.

Given that Thomas did previously recuse himself from the Eastman case -- albeit without explanation, and notably, Eastman previously served as a clerk for Thomas -- it seems possible that he might also recuse himself from the Colorado ballot case, though that is perhaps less likely, and neither Thomas nor the court has said anything yet in that regard.

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