Rep. Keith Ellison. Photo: Facebook
Rep. Keith Ellison. Photo: Facebook

Ellison: Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from health care cases

Justice didn't disclose $700K in wife's income made from anti-reform group
By Andy Birkey
Monday, February 14, 2011 at 8:15 am

Rep. Keith Ellison is among 74 members of Congress who called  on United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas Friday to recuse himself from hearing any cases that have to do with health care reform after revelations that Thomas’ wife makes a living from organizations that oppose the implementation of health care reform.

Virginia Thomas received nearly $700,000 from the Heritage Foundation between 2003 and 2007 — and that income was not disclosed on Justice Thomas’ financial disclosure forms as required by law. The Heritage Foundation opposes health care reform, and the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court. In addition, Virginia Thomas recently started a lobbying firm and will serve as an “ambassador to the Tea Party movement.”

In their letter, the House members, all Democrats, also noted that Virginia Thomas and her Liberty Central stood to benefit from the Citizens United decision in 2010 in which Justice Thomas sided with corporations making independent political expenditures.

The House members are asking Justice Thomas to recuse himself if the high court hears a case questioning the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Here’s the letter:

Dear Justice Thomas:

As an Associate Justice, you are entrusted with the responsibility to exercise the highest degree of discretion and impartiality when deciding a case. As Members of Congress, we were surprised by recent revelations of your financial ties to leading organizations dedicated to lobbying against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. We write today to respectfully ask that you maintain the integrity of this court and recuse yourself from any deliberations on the constitutionality of this act.

The appearance of a conflict of interest merits recusal under federal law. From what we have already seen, the line between your impartiality and you and your wife’s financial stake in the overturn of health care reform is blurred. Your spouse is advertising herself as a lobbyist who has “experience and connections” and appeals to clients who want a particular decision – they want to overturn health care reform. Moreover, your failure to disclose Ginny Thomas’s receipt of $686,589 from the Heritage Foundation, a prominent opponent of health care reform, between 2003 and 2007 has raised great concern.

This is not the first case where your impartiality was in question. As Common Cause points out, you “participated in secretive political strategy sessions, perhaps while the case was pending, with corporate leaders whose political aims were advanced by the [5-4] decision” on the Citizens United case. Your spouse also received an undisclosed salary paid for by undisclosed donors as CEO of Liberty Central, a 501(c)(4) organization that stood to benefit from the decision and played an active role in the 2010 elections.

Given these facts, there is a strong conflict between the Thomas household’s financial gain through your spouse’s activities and your role as Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. We urge you to recuse yourself from this case. If the US Supreme Court’s decision is to be viewed as legitimate by the American people, this is the only correct path.

We appreciate your thoughtful consideration of this request.


Reps. Anna G. Eshoo, Anthony D. Weiner, Al Green, E.B. Johnson, Wm. Lacy Clay, Russ Carnahan, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Karen Bass, Richard Neal, Peter Welch, Judy Chu, John Yarmuth, Betty Sutton, Ed Perlmutter, Gerald Connolly, Dennis Kucinich, Kendrick Meeks, Allyson Schwartz, Lloyd Doggett, Gwen Moore, Jared Polis, Maxine Waters, Donald Payne, Bobby Rush, Steve Cohen, Joseph Crowley, Eliot Engel, David Cicilline, Susan Davis, Albio Sires, Mike Doyle, Louise Slaughter, Jim McDermott, Nydia Velazquez, John Garamendi, André Carson, Michael Capuano, Shelley Berkley, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Tim Bishop, Barbara Lee, Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, John Conyers, John Larson, George Miller, Leonard Boswell, Donna Edwards, Lois Capps, Xavier Becerra, Theodore Deutch, Steve Israel, Bill Owens, Laura Richardson, Clarke, Mazie Hirono, Gary Ackerman, Keith Ellison, Raul Grijalva, Chris Murphy, Lynn Woolsey, Peter DeFazio, Jesse Jackson Jr, Sylvester Reyes, Carolyn Maloney, Robert Andrews, Bill Pascrell, Bob Filner, Paul Tonko, Marcia Fudge, Maurice Hinchey, Mike Honda, Frank Pallone, Pete Stark

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Comment posted February 14, 2011 @ 8:33 am

Oh please. Then every judge who has a spouse who works for an organization that has an opinion (for or against) any law or government regulation should recuse himself or herself from any case affected by that law.

Ellison’s taken about $25,000 from the Muslim Brotherhood. Maybe he should recuse himself when it comes to voting on national security issues.

Paul Schmelzer
Comment posted February 14, 2011 @ 8:37 am

Citation on the Ellison claim, Dennis?

Comment posted February 14, 2011 @ 9:05 am

Dennis are you so uninformed that you can not tell the difference between the legislative and the judicial branches of the government? That explains a lot about why you appear so stupid about political issues. Better haul out that 5th grade Civics book for a refresher.

Comment posted February 14, 2011 @ 10:01 am

There is a difference between a spouses organization having a differing opinion, and a spouse actually profiting and benefiting from the decision.

If your spouse is going to benefit herself by your decision, there is a conflict. The having of opinions is not the problem. Nice straw man though Dennis.

Comment posted February 14, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

Mr. Birkey,
To notify you and readers of a misprint in this article, I would like to point out that the subtitle’s text “Justice didn’t disclose $700M in wife’s income made from anti-reform group” contains an error. As you later point out in the article, it is approximately $700,000 that Justice Thomas’s wife earned, not $700,000,000.

The precise number, and the precise nature of the non-disclosure (this was a tax mistake, not a cover-up attempt by the Justice to avoid having to recuse himself) is described in the LA Times article you cite:

“Between 2003 and 2007, Virginia Thomas, a longtime conservative activist, earned $686,589 from the Heritage Foundation, according to a Common Cause review of the foundation’s IRS records. Thomas failed to note the income in his Supreme Court financial disclosure forms for those years, instead checking a box labeled “none” where “spousal noninvestment income” would be disclosed.”

I would also like to note that this type of income, from groups with political agendas, is not unique to Justice Thomas’s family. Justice Scalia is scheduled to speak at an upcoming Tea Party Convention on the federal constitution, but he is not expected to recuse himself from issues having to do with the textualist constitutional interpretation which he holds.

It should also be noted that the Heritage Foundation, which employed Mrs. Thomas, is much bigger than just Health Care. To expect Justice Thomas to recuse himself on this issue and not on the other issues which Heritage lobbys congress on seems inconsistent (though, of course, that would leave nearly nothing on which he could fulfill his duties as a justice).

Comment posted February 14, 2011 @ 12:39 pm


I heard the Muslim Brotherhood donated $125,000 to Michelle Bachmann’s campaign….I have abosolutley no proof and I am completely making it up, but since you can do it I think I will to, you fat piece of crap.

Paul Schmelzer
Comment posted February 14, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

Thanks, Alexander. I changed the subhead — where I had an M instead of a K to indicate thousands — about an hour before your comment (my error, not Andy’s).

Comment posted February 14, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

This is a news story about his first trip. He’s made a second one since then, one assumes at the same cost.

thomas butler
Comment posted February 14, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

Dennis –

You know what the say about one who assumes -

Paul Schmelzer
Comment posted February 14, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

Dennis: As you know, we have comment policies we ask you to adhere to if you’d like to comment. One is to make comments relevant to posts. The link you provided is not relevant to this post, which is about Ellison’s letter asking for Thomas’ recusal in HCR cases. Your pdf link doesn’t mention Clarence Thomas, the Heritage Foundation, Keith Ellison or the $25K donation you accuse him of taking, so I’ve deleted that comment.

Also, I’ve boldfaced a segment of our comment policies for your benefit.

Comment posted February 14, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

When Justice Scalia refused to recuse himself from deciding former VP Cheney’s
“secret energy conference” case – they are friends and hunting buddies – I lost faith in his impartiality and judgment. Of course, the case went in Mr. Cheney’s favor, which was not solely Mr. Scalia’s doing.

Mr. Thomas,rumored to be the least inquisitive jurist to sit on our highest court, will lose my trust if he does not stay out of health care law decisions, given his active family participation for one side – health care companies – in pending litigation.

Too bad there is no mechanism to force a recusal of one of the SCOTUS members, though one can imagine the political shenanigans that might result if such a lever was present

Comment posted February 14, 2011 @ 7:25 pm


I wish you would have left the comment from Dennis (or the handful of people that actually comprise “Dennis”) up so everyone could see foolish his posts are.

Comment posted February 14, 2011 @ 10:35 pm

Rachel Maddow has the scoop on Justice Clarence Thomas being the guest of the Koch Brothers for 4 days a while back, thus being reimbursed for lodging, meals, etc., for one of their get-togethers. PAyback for voting in their favor in Citizens United v. FEC???

This man should be impeached from the SCOTUS.

Comment posted February 15, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

Lady….can a Supreme COurt judge be impeached or removed? If so, why hasn’t anyone started a movement for that…I think we should!!!!

Comment posted February 15, 2011 @ 2:12 pm

Chad, judges can be impeached and removed. It happened just recently. I can’t see a Republican House doing so. Maybe if Thomas had a sex scandal instead of a financial scandal. Oh, right.

Comment posted February 15, 2011 @ 6:42 pm

Thank you, Keith

Comment posted February 16, 2011 @ 7:02 pm


Comment posted February 17, 2011 @ 10:10 am

Clearly, the Supreme Court Injustice considers himself and his wife above the law. Checking a box on a form is just too confusing for someone like him. He is a walking conflict of interest.

Maybe his wife could make some more late night phone calls and make this this all go away since she was, after all, heading up a tea party organization.

Comment posted February 17, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

Yes, he should recuse himself it IS a conflict of interest. But since the GOP are in control of the senate and house their Hilterlistic agenda will prevail

Eric Miklas
Comment posted March 2, 2011 @ 6:46 pm


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