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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.