Appearing for an interview on MSNBC that week, legal scholar Laurence Tribe said U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas broke the law in the supreme court by refusing to recuse himself from a high-profile Supreme Court case that involved his wife, Ginni Thomas, who has been the center of controversy over her role in Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
In his interview, the professor emeritus at Harvard University cited a specific statute, telling MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell that Thomas violated 28 U.S. Code § 455 because he has not disqualified himself in Moore v. Harper, a controversial case about the power to draw and strike down electoral maps.
The 28 U.S. Code § 455 deals with federal judges disqualifying themselves from cases and Tribe argued that Thomas was in violation of the law because of “two provisions that almost any lawyer would say require Clarence Thomas not to participate at all.”
“One of them says that a justice—and it specifically applies to Supreme Court justices—may not participate if somebody could reasonably question that justice’s impartiality,” Tribe told O’Donnell.
“Clearly that’s the case here,” he said, and he also cited a section that says a justice shouldn’t be involved if their spouse has an interest in the case.
“It’s obvious that Ginni Thomas has an interest,” Tribe said. “She was an active participant in the attempt to use something like the independent state legislature theory that was before the court on the argument on Wednesday and Clarence Thomas happily participated anyway.”
He said 28 U.S. Code § 455 “says it shall be unlawful for a justice to do what it seems that Clarence Thomas, as a Supreme Court justice, has done.”
“People who think these rules don’t apply to justices are wrong,” Tribe explained. “They apply. That law applies—it uses the word ‘justice’ and the only judges in the federal system who are justices are the nine that we see all the time sitting in the marble palace.”
In Moore v. Harper, North Carolina Republicans are asking the Supreme Court whether state courts have the legal authority to throw out electoral maps and order districts to be redrawn.
The outcome of the case could have a profound effect on U.S. elections, with the Brennan Center for Justice previously calling Moore v. Harper “an appeal advocating for extreme interpretation of the Constitution that could make it easier for state legislatures to suppress the vote, draw unfair election districts, and enable partisan interference in ballot counting.”
Watch the interview below: