Dems want probe of Justice Thomas as health law ruling looms
By Julian Pecquet
Twenty House Democrats are demanding a judicial ethics investigation into Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas just as the high court is poised to issue a ruling on the healthcare law that could make or break President Obama’s reelection. The lawmakers on Thursday asked the U.S. Judicial Conference to formally request that the Department of Justice look into Thomas’s failure to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars his wife has received from groups that want the healthcare law repealed. Their letter comes after 75 House Democrats in February askedThomas to recuse himself from the case following reports that he’d failed to report his wife Virginia’s income since he joined the bench in 1991.
“Due to the simplicity of the disclosure requirements, along with Justice Thomas’s high level of legal training and experience, it is reasonable to infer that his failure to disclose his wife’s income for two decades was willful, and the Judicial Conference has a non-discretionary duty to refer this case to the Department of Justice,”
the Democrats wrote in the letter, which was spearheaded by Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee.
The letter comes just a day after the Obama administration and 26 states challenging the Democrats’ healthcare reform law asked the Supreme Court to take up the case, all but assuring that the high court will render a decision by next summer.
Many legal experts believe the court will end up with a split 5-4 ruling on the law — with Justice Anthony Kennedy filling his customary swing-vote role — so pressure on justices to recuse themselves is only expected to increase. Republicans for their part have focused their attacks on Justice Elena Kagan, who was the Obama administration’s top lawyer when the healthcare law was being crafted.
“I think that Kagan, who was the solicitor general at the time this was all done, probably should recuse herself,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Fox News in February.
Conservative groups have similarly been raising concerns that Kagan might have been involved in crafting the administration’s legal defense for a law she’s now expected to rule on — something she emphatically denied during her Senate confirmation. In particular, they point to an email exchange between Kagan and her subordinate Neal Katyal that suggests she might have gotten involved without leaving a paper trail. The emails were obtained by CNSNews.com under a Freedom of Information Act request.
Referring to a planned healthcare litigation meeting, Katyal emailed Kagan: “I think you should go, no? I will, regardless, but feel this is litigation of singular importance.”
“What’s your phone number?” Kagan asked, thereby ending the email chain.
Democrats are also ramping up the pressure on Thomas.
Their letter raises concerns not only with Virginia Thomas’s income, but also with a recent New York Times report that found that Justice Thomas might have benefited from the use of a private yacht and airplane and failed to disclose the travel as a gift or travel reimbursement. And while the letter from the House Democrats doesn’t mention the healthcare law, a news release from Slaughter’s office makes clear the pending litigation is on their minds.
“Throughout his entire tenure on the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas checked a box titled ‘none’ on his annual financial disclosure forms, indicating that his wife had received no income, despite the fact that his wife had in fact earned nearly $700,000 from the Heritage Foundation from 2003-2007 alone,” Slaughter’s office said in the news release. “The Heritage Foundation was a prominent opponent of the Affordable Care Act, an issue that is expected to be considered by the Supreme Court in the near future.”
The letter’s co-signers include: Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.), Gwen Moore (Wis.), Mike Honda (Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Christopher Murphy (Conn.), John Garamendi (Calif.), Pete Stark (Calif.), Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), John Olver (Mass.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Donna Edwards (Md.), Jackie Speier (Calif.), Paul Tonko (N.Y.), Bob Filner (Calif.), Peter Welch (Vt.), John Conyers (Mich.), Keith Ellison (Minn.), Anna Eshoo (Calif.) and Ed Perlmutter (Colo.).