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Fair Courts Update: Ginni Thomas Texts Prompt Calls for SCOTUS Ethics Reform

Ginni Thomas texts prompt calls for reform, SCOTUS nomination vote scheduled, New York judges face removal for violating vaccine mandate, and more.

Last Updated: April 1, 2022
Published: April 6, 2022

Senate Judi­ciary Sets Vote to Advance Judge Ketanji Brown Jack­son’s Nomin­a­tion

On March 28, the Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee sched­uled a vote on Judge Ketanji Brown Jack­son’s nomin­a­tion to the Supreme Court for April 4. The vote, which would advance Jack­son’s nomin­a­tion to the full Senate floor for a final confirm­a­tion vote late next week, was delayed one week at the request of Repub­lican senat­ors.

Last week, Repub­lican senat­ors ques­tioned Jack­son at length about her senten­cing record as a federal district court judge, her views on crit­ical race theory and Supreme Court expan­sion, and her repres­ent­a­tion of Guantá­namo detain­ees as a federal public defender. Jack­son’s hear­ings focused more on crim­inal justice than any other Supreme Court confirm­a­tion hear­ings since those of Thur­good Marshall, and a 2011 study shows people of color have histor­ic­ally received more ques­tions about crime than white Supreme Court nomin­ees.

Jack­son is expec­ted to get the support of all 50 Demo­cratic and inde­pend­ent senat­ors, and on March 30, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) announced she will vote in favor of Jack­son’s confirm­a­tion, ensur­ing bipar­tisan support.

Accord­ing to CNN, an aver­age of results from five recent polls indic­ates that 53% of Amer­ic­ans support Jack­son’s confirm­a­tion, with 26% of Amer­ic­ans opposed. If these ratings continue, Jack­son would be the most popu­lar nominee to be confirmed since Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005.

Ginni Thomas’ Text Messages Prompt Calls for Supreme Court Ethics Reform

On March 24, the Wash­ing­ton Post and CBS News repor­ted that Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clar­ence Thomas, exchanged 29 text messages with Pres­id­ent Donald Trump’s chief of staff urging him to continue the fight to over­turn the results of the 2020 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion.

The messages, which were obtained by the Janu­ary 6 select commit­tee, were sent between Novem­ber 4 and Novem­ber 24, and one on Janu­ary 10. During that period, Pres­id­ent Trump publicly declared his intent to contest the elec­tion results in the Supreme Court. And in Janu­ary of this year, Justice Thomas was the only justice to vote to block the release of records from the Trump White House related to the Janu­ary 6 attack – includ­ing those that presum­ably include commu­nic­a­tions by his wife.

These devel­op­ments promp­ted calls for ethics reform. This week, 24 Demo­cratic lawmakers sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Thomas, asking Roberts to commit to creat­ing a bind­ing code of conduct for the Court by April 28. The Bren­nan Center also urged Congress or the Court to imple­ment a code of conduct.

New York Judges Could be Removed from Bench for Viol­at­ing State Court’s Vaccine Mandate

Four New York judges, includ­ing a judge on the state’s highest court, could face removal from the bench for fail­ing to comply with the court system’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate, accord­ing to the New York Times.

Since Septem­ber, court employ­ees who failed to provide proof of vaccin­a­tion or receive a reli­gious or medical exemp­tion have been barred from court facil­it­ies. As a result, Judge Jenny Rivera of the New York Court of Appeals has been parti­cip­at­ing in court remotely, while the other six judges on the court have parti­cip­ated in person.

On March 21, 156 court employ­ees were told that they would be fired if they do not submit proof of vaccin­a­tion by close of busi­ness on April 4, accord­ing to a letter sent by the New York Office of Court Admin­is­tra­tion. The four judges who are in viol­a­tion of the policy, Reuters reports, cannot be fired and will instead be referred to the state’s Commis­sion on Judi­cial Conduct, which has the power to admon­ish, censure, or remove judges from office.

Idaho Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Changed Judi­cial Appoint­ment Process

On March 30, Governor Brad Little vetoed a bill that would have altered the state’s judi­cial coun­cil, which vets and recom­mends nomin­ees to the governor for vacan­cies on the state’s trial and appel­late courts.

The bill, HB 782, would have expan­ded the coun­cil from seven to 11 members and increased the number of members chosen by the governor. It would have also shortened the terms of coun­cil members from six to four years and allowed the governor to reject a slate of the coun­cil’s nomin­ees and request an entirely new list for a judi­cial vacancy.

HB 782 moved through the legis­lature quickly. It was intro­duced on March 16 and was sent to the governor on March 25. The Idaho Press reports that some legis­lat­ors were unhappy with recent court decisions, includ­ing an Idaho Supreme Court ruling last year that blocked a new law that would have made it harder to put initi­at­ives on the ballot.

Rep. Greg Chaney, a co-spon­sor of HB 782, sent a letter to legis­lat­ive lead­er­ship after the bill was vetoed, encour­aging them to nomin­ate indi­vidu­als to the special commit­tee created by the judi­ciary last month to study the judi­cial coun­cil and judi­cial recruit­ment.