Clarence and Ginni Thomas have put Democrats in a terrible bind

When it comes to the Supreme Court, Democrats are on thin enough ice as it is — and they know it

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Monday 28 March 2022 21:20
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<p>Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas</p>

Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas

Last week featured a trio of Supreme Court news: the confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to join the Supreme Court; sitting Justice Clarence Thomas’s hospitalization (and subsequent release); and revelations that Thomas’s wife Virginia “Ginni” Thomas repeatedly pressured former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Despite the fact the Supreme Court often tries to avoid even the appearance of being political – Clarence Thomas had just earlier this month warned that “at some point the institution is going to be compromised” – Ginni Thomas’s frequent activism within conservative circles is well-known. It remained unabated, despite her husband’s position on the bench.

Some Democrats — among them Congresswoman Ilhan Omar — called for Clarence Thomas to be impeached; others, like Senator Ron Wyden and Senate Judiciary Committee members Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, said the justice should have recused himself from election cases or from cases related to the events of January 6, 2021. But despite Omar’s demands and the Senators’ more polite pleading, the story comes at an inopportune time for them.

On Friday, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin announced he would vote to put Kentaji Brown Jackson on the Supreme Court, all but guaranteeing she will be confirmed. This he did as Republicans have vehemently opposed her confirmation. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, seemingly the most deferential to Jackson among the Judiciary Committee’s Republicans, announced he was a no, meaning the committee vote will most likely be a deadlock before it goes to the full Senate.

Republicans, like their mascot the elephant, seem to never forget the old scores they want to settle. They still regularly complain about Robert Bork’s failed confirmation vote in 1987; and during Jackson’s questioning, Senator Ted Cruz mentioned Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings in 1991, during which Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment, which Thomas called a “high-tech lynching”. This is to say nothing of the fresh anger the GOP still feels about Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 hearings and the row over Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that he sexually assaulted her.

This means that, for all the profound implications of the Thomas story, the Democrats don’t want to do anything that could derail Jackson’s confirmation. They would be on difficult terrain trying to do anything about Clarence Thomas and his wife in normal times, but with a historic judicial confirmation process underway, Democrats are in an even tougher bind than usual.

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