What Would John Adams Say?

Published: March 12, 2024

By Jim Lichtman
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“The Due Process clauses of the United States Constitution require judges to recuse themselves from cases in two situations: Where the judge has a financial interest in the case’s outcome, and where there is otherwise a strong possibility that the judge’s decision will be biased.

“In either case, it does not matter whether or not the judge is actually biased. What matters is that even if the judge is not biased, the high probability of bias still damages the integrity of the judicial system.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that former President Trump cannot be removed from the primary ballot in Colorado because the state believed he played a part in the insurrection of the Capitol building.

Why did Thomas vote at all?

Okay, class, a little refresher:

Remember Thomas’s wife, “Gini”?

“Virginia Thomas,” The Washington Post reported, “pressed 29 Republican state lawmakers in Arizona to set aside Joe Biden’s popular vote victory and ‘choose’ presidential electors, according to emails obtained by The Post.”

ProPublica reports that for 20 years, Thomas was the recipient of many unreported gifts from Republican billionaire Harlan Crow. When it became public, Thomas had a ready explanation that led the public to learn that, unlike other judicial appointees, there is no ethics policy in place. Each justice determines whether he or she should recuse themselves.

In a social media post on Feb. 7, Democratic senator Dick Durbin wrote, “I’m calling for Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself in the 14th Amendment case determining if Donald Trump is ineligible for the 2024 ballot. Given questions surrounding his wife’s involvement, Justice Thomas should recuse himself so there’s no question of bias.”

Now, the Supreme Court announced it will be hearing Trump’s “full immunity” from criminal prosecution claim regarding his involvement in the January 6 attack at the Capitol.

In a letter to Thomas, Democratic lawmakers wrote, “[W]e strongly implore you to exercise your discretion and recuse yourself from this and any other decisions in the case of United States v. Trump.”

The letter cites the Court’s adopted ethical rules, which read, in part:

“A Justice should disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the Justice’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, that is, where an unbiased and reasonable person who is aware of all relevant circumstances would doubt that the Justice could fairly discharge his or her duties.”

All justices, including Justice Thomas, signed the code.

Did he abide by the code in the Colorado case?


Will he abide by the code in the upcoming Trump immunity case?

Probably not.

Is there any enforcement mechanism if a justice crosses an ethical line?

Of course not.

As an “originalist”—justices who adhere to the Constitution as written—Thomas’s moral compass would be better served if he re-examined the words of one of the original founding father’s principle:

“A government of laws, and not of men.”—John Adams


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