Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, tells TYT that filing articles of impeachment against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas remains an option.
Johnson is the ranking member of the subcommittee that oversees courts. He has been a leading voice calling for a systemic response to the recent revelations about Thomas.
Johnson, along with Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL) and progressive groups, will hold a press conference Wednesday to call for Thomas’s immediate resignation.
On Monday, Johnson and 34 other House Democrats wrote to Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), asking him to allow a full vote on a recently reintroduced Supreme Court ethics bill.
Johnson told TYT that in the event of impeachment, he'd prefer to have the results of a federal investigation, which could surface additional facts about Thomas and confirm recent reports alleging systemic corruption by the controversial, right-wing judge. But Johnson also said an investigation isn’t required.
Thomas reportedly failed to disclose years worth of gifts and trips that he and his wife Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist, received from GOP megadonor Harlan Crow, including a luxury trip to Indonesia worth more than $500,000. ProPublica also revealed that Thomas omitted from disclosure forms his sale of property to Crow for $133,363.
Last week, Johnson and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) called on the Judicial Conference, which sets judiciary ethics standards, to refer Thomas to Attorney General Merrick Garland. The two Democrats cited potential violation of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, which requires elected officials and justices to report sources of income “which exceeds $100 in amount or value.”
Johnson told TYT that pursuing impeachment would be better to do after such an investigation establishes “clearly that impeachment should happen.” An investigation by the House Judiciary Committee itself won’t happen, Johnson said, as long as Republicans are in control.
That said, an investigation is not a prerequisite for Johnson.
“[I]t would be great to have an investigation,” Johnson said. “But the fact that there may not be an investigation conducted would not preclude Democrats in the House from proceeding with articles of impeachment, at least filing them,” said Johnson.
Some other Democrats -- notably Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) -- have already called for Thomas to be impeached, following the first report on Thomas’s luxury trips. However, neither Ocasio-Cortez nor Tlaib sits on the House Judiciary Committee.
Johnson also says the problem isn't just Thomas. He cited Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito also failing to disclose trips taken with people who have business before the high court. Justices on the Supreme Court, Johnson says, have “not seen fit to hold themselves to a code of conduct.”
“[T]hey have always argued that, ‘Hey, we self-police, we govern ourselves, we're the highest court of the land, don't worry about us, go back to sleep.’ And then we wake up and we see these reports of ProPublica. [...] [W]e know now that going to sleep on ethics for the Supreme Court is not a good idea,” said Johnson.
Citing a corrosion of public confidence in the Supreme Court, Johnson and his colleagues called for McCarthy to bring the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusals, and Transparency Act (SCERT) for a floor vote. It would create a code of conduct for the Supreme Court, set limits on gifts and travel, and enforce income disclosure rules. The bill also would require the disclosure of funding for amicus briefs and establish a Supreme Court ethics complaints board made up of Circuit Court judges.
In the letter, Johnson and his colleagues say that “If a justice cannot be counted on to accurately report the details of substantial financial income for a decade-and-a-half, what business does he have in parsing the details of the laws we pass, to say nothing about the Constitution?”
Johnson says that Congress hasn’t dealt with a controversy of this magnitude involving the Supreme Court since former Justice Abe Fortas resigned in 1969 over accepting money from people who had dealings with the high court. He says the ethical issues with some of the current justices is part of Chief Justice John Roberts’ responsibility to address.
“[N]ow in the Roberts Court, it seems that things have taken a nosedive, and I'm not attributing that to Chief Justice Roberts, but it is happening on his watch,” says Johnson.
TYT Washington Correspondent Candice Cole was previously a correspondent and senior White House producer for the Black News Channel and has worked at a number of local news outlets. You can find her on Twitter @CandiceColeNews.