U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Tupelo Republican, believes the leak of the draft U.S. Supreme Court decision revoking a nationwide right to an abortion is “an attack on a key institution” and “threatens (the) independence of the Court.”
But by Wicker’s estimation, the alleged conflict of interest created by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas ruling on cases involving his wife Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist and election denier, is no big deal and does nothing to hurt the Supreme Court.
“I’m not concerned about Justice Thomas and I disagree that there are apparent conflicts as you assert. His service to date has been beyond reproach,” Wicker said in response to a question from Mississippi Today.
The senior senator from Mississippi went on to add, “Mrs. Ginni Thomas is a free American entitled to her own views. She does not surrender her rights based on who her husband is.”
No one, of course, is questioning Ginni Thomas’ right to have a personal or public life of her own. What is at issue is whether Clarence Thomas, as one of the nation’s nine most powerful members of the judiciary, should be ruling on issues surrounding his wife’s public life.
Earlier this year, Thomas was the only member of the nation’s highest court to rule against releasing correspondence from the White House to a commission established by the U.S. House to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and efforts to overturn the results of the November 2020 presidential election.
That commission is chaired by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who is the lone Democrat in Mississippi’s congressional delegation. It is of note than Wicker voted against forming the commission.
It is hard to fathom that when Thomas ruled on the case, he was not aware of his wife’s email correspondence with the White House in which she urged members of President Trump’s team to do all they could to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
While Wicker sees no problems with the Thomases, he said if the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked by a Supreme Court law clerk, that person should be disbarred. If it was a Supreme Court justice who leaked the draft opinion, that justice should be impeached, Wicker said.
“This leak will severely damage that trust, putting at risk the ability of our nation’s highest court to function,” Wicker said in a commentary. “It will also set a disturbing precedent of inciting mob pressure to intimidate the justices before they issue a decision.”
On a conservative news show, Wicker said, “I think Democrats and Republicans should have denounced the leak. So far it has only come from our side.”
Many believe both Republicans and Democrats also should be speaking up in favor of placing guidelines on Supreme Court justices for dealing with conflict of interest issues. There are guidelines for recusal from cases that judges are supposed to follow. But the Supreme Court is not bound by those guidelines.
The Code of Conduct for United States Judges that apparently does not apply to Supreme Court justices says, “A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety. This prohibition applies to both professional and personal conduct. A judge must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny and accept freely and willingly restrictions that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen.”
Perhaps such a code also should apply to the nine most powerful judges in the nation — those who make up the Supreme Court.
Fix the Court, a nonprofit advocacy group, cites about 60 alleged ethics violations by Supreme Court justices in recent years, including Thomas’ possible conflicts of interest related to his wife and other justices accepting gifts and travel from groups that might appear before the court.
“At a time when the Supreme Court has outsized power — over our personal privacy and health care decisions, over who can vote and who wins elections, over who can marry and who can unionize, and so much more — it is critical that the branch, including those at its apex, are subject to transparency and accountability rules that measure up to its might,” said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court.
Legislation is currently being considered by Congress that will address some of those conflict of interest issues facing the Supreme Court and will provide more transparency.
Whether that legislation will receive support from Republicans like Roger Wicker remains to be seen.