WASHINGTON (AP) — The presence of Justice Clarence Thomas at the Supreme Court’s oral argument in former President Donald Trump’s appeal of the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling disqualifying him from the ballot has raised concerns about the court’s integrity and its commitment to the rule of law. Thomas, whose wife played a role in the efforts to overturn the 2020 election, declined to recuse himself from the matter involving the release of text messages related to the January 6 coup attempt. Legal experts have criticized Thomas for refusing to recuse himself and accused him of abusing his role as a Supreme Court justice.
During Thursday’s argument on whether the Capitol attack was an “insurrection,” Trump’s counsel admitted that it was a “criminal” activity. This raised further questions about Thomas’s presence in the case and the potential conflict of interest given his wife’s involvement. Legal experts and lawmakers have called Thomas’s participation in the case a violation of ethical obligations and a crisis for the court.
The concerns about the impartiality of right-wing judges extend beyond Thomas. U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon’s impartiality has been questioned in a case involving Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice. Her ruling appointing a special master and preventing the Justice Department from continuing its national security investigation was roundly criticized and unanimously reversed by the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
Legal scholars have argued that Cannon’s earlier handling of the case raises doubts about her impartiality and that she should have recused herself. They pointed out that federal law requires judges to disqualify themselves in proceedings where their impartiality could reasonably be questioned. Cannon’s recent decision to unseal classified documents in Trump’s case has been met with alarm, as it puts the identities of government witnesses at risk and threatens national security.
The special counsel in the case has the option to file a fast-track interlocutory appeal to the 11th Circuit and combine it with a motion to recuse Cannon. This would highlight the bias in the case and the impact it has on the government’s ability to receive a fair trial. Former prosecutor Joyce Vance suggested waiting for the Section 4 hearing rulings, when Cannon will decide whether classified documents must be revealed at trial.
The question that arises from both Thomas and Cannon’s cases is how much leeway unethical judges should have in influencing the judicial system. If these violations of ethical restraints go unchecked, Trump’s sabotage of the rule of law will succeed. It is crucial to address these concerns about the integrity of the Supreme Court and lower-court judges to protect the impartiality of the judicial system.