Exclusive: A majority of voters say Justice Clarence Thomas should be impeached
Amid public controversy over the scale of Thomas’ financial ties to a conservative real estate magnate, a new poll of voters finds public support for congressional action.
For two decades, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas took near-yearly trips to foreign locales such as Indonesia and spent weeks at an exclusive private residence high in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, sometimes ferried there on private jets and yachts, all at the expense of Harlan Crow, a billionaire and a Republican megadonor.
Those trips are evidence of an extensive, expensive, and undisclosed financial relationship between the two men uncovered by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative newsroom. In the months since ProPublica’s April report, prominent Democrats have condemned Thomas and called for an investigation into the Supreme Court’s ethics rules.
Now, a new poll shared exclusively with the American Independent Foundation by Accountable for Equality, a nonprofit group formed to “educate the public about the concerted efforts of anti-LGBTQ extremists,” finds that a majority of voters think Thomas should resign or be impeached by Congress.
This poll comes almost a year after the June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court ruling that overturned the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that recognized a constitutional right to abortion. The ruling in Dobbs sparked nationwide protests and a large Democratic electoral turnout in the 2022 midterms. Since the ruling, confidence in the nation’s high court is at a historic low; only 18% of U.S. adults said they have “a great deal” of confidence in the court, according to Gallup, an analytics firm that tracks public opinion.
According to the new poll, conducted online between May 22-31 by Change Research, 39% of registered voters say that Thomas should “definitely be impeached,” and 17% say that he “probably” should be impeached. Republicans and Democrats are sharply split, while 60% of independents say they are in favor of impeachment. The poll’s margin of error is 3.7%.
“It is long past time that the Supreme Court adopted a code of conduct with enforceable rules,” Christy Setzer, a spokesperson for Accountable for Equality, told the American Independent Foundation in an email. “Every day that goes by with Clarence Thomas’ transgressions unchecked erodes the integrity of the highest court in the land.”
Large majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents said they would be concerned if a sitting justice did not disclose “extravagant and expensive” gifts from a political donor. When participants were informed specifically about the extent of Crow’s gifts to Thomas — the poll explained that Crow also bought Thomas’ mother’s home, renovated it, and paid for one of Thomas’ relatives to attend a private school, in addition to the luxury trips — a significant but somewhat smaller majority still said they were still concerned.
Congress has the power to impeach any federal judge, although that is unlikely to happen soon. To impeach Thomas, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would have to vote to bring impeachment charges against him. Then the charges would be referred to the Senate for a trial, in which a two-thirds majority would have to vote to remove Thomas from office. If that majority were not reached, Thomas would be acquitted.
Democrats have been calling for Supreme Court reform for years, floating ideas as varied as expanding the number of seats on the court and creating term limits for sitting justices. But following ProPublica’s reporting on Thomas’ ties to Crow, those cries have become louder. One idea, put forward by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, is to pass legislation in Congress that would impose an enforceable code of ethics on the court.
Republicans, on the other hand, vehemently dispute that Thomas has done anything wrong.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz alluded to Thomas’ 1991 confirmation hearings and accused Democrats of weaponizing racism in their attacks on the justice, who is Black. During those hearings, Anita Hill, a former employee of Thomas’, said that he had sexually harassed her. In the face of Hill’s testimony and Democratic opposition, Thomas declared himself the victim of a “high-tech lynching.”
“It is sad to see 30 years later this committee is again engaged in the same despicable tactics,” Cruz said.
“This is an unseemly effort by the Democratic left to destroy the legitimacy of the Roberts court,” Graham said. “There’s a very selective outrage here.”
However, public opinion appears to be on the side of ethics reform, at least for now.
The push for reform recently received a significant financial boost: On Tuesday, a coalition of more than 100 progressive advocacy groups and labor unions announced a $1 million ad campaign to rally support for legislative action to “rein in” the court.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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