You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation
Phony Majority

Sure, Impeach Clarence Thomas—but That’s Just for Starters

The story is much larger than a potential conflict in one Supreme Court case. All six conservative justices lied in their confirmation hearings. What will Democrats do about that?

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images
A protest outside the Supreme Court before the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was handed down last week

I see that one million Americans have now signed the petition going around to impeach Justice Clarence Thomas. The petition, the work of MoveOn, cites Thomas’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, his vow in his concurring opinion that other privacy rights are next in his gunsights, and his refusal to recuse himself when he was the lone dissenter in the recent case in which the Supreme Court ordered Donald Trump to turn over certain documents to the National Archives, even as Thomas’s right-wing extremist wife was coordinating with the Trump White House to plot a coup.

MoveOn, which wrongly calls Ginni Thomas a “conservative activist” rather than what I call her above (the term “conservative activist” totally whitewashes her extremism and participation in a coup against the United States), also made a grave error in not mentioning the fact that her husband obviously lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings. I don’t mean about the things he said to Anita Hill, though he pretty clearly lied there too, but his nonsense claim to have great respect for precedent.

That’s the big scandal here. The lie. It’s so typical of liberals to think they’re going to catch some conservative in a conflict of interest. First, they’re probably not going to. And second, even if they do the conservative will almost certainly wriggle out of it somehow. Right-wingers will refute the evidence. Committed centrists will settle on an explanation that comports with their “they’re all corrupt” worldview. Only die-hard liberals will agree that the conflict merits punishment, and there just aren’t enough die-hard liberals in this country for it to matter.

Don’t get me wrong. Thomas should obviously have recused himself from the Trump documents case, and his wife’s hard-right activism on almost every issue you can name makes him a walking conflict of interest. And sure, maybe I’m wrong, and the committee has in its possession some genuinely incriminating evidence.

But more likely is that the conflict charge will end in a fog of unprovables. The word “liar,” meanwhile, is a lot easier for most people to understand.

It also has the benefit of not referring to Thomas alone. All six justices who voted to strike down Roe told the Senate the same lie. I make a little asterisk for Amy Coney Barrett, not because I have any higher regard for her, but because in fairness she did at least distinguish between precedent and what she called “super-precedent,” noting that Roe was the former while something like Brown v. Board was the latter.

This is the real basis on which they could all be threatened with impeachment, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez correctly argued last week (although only with respect to Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh). They lied, under oath, to get onto the highest law-giving body in the land.

Yes, that would be hard to prove: They could always weasel around the question with language about the circumstances they confronted being different from those they anticipated. But it’s obvious that all six of them lied (with the noted Coney Barrett asterisk that she only half-lied). The question is, what do we do about it?

Impeachment proceedings begin in the House, which for the moment is in Democratic hands—but naturally, the vast majority of Democrats don’t want to talk about it. Even those who did talk about it made it all about the insurrection. When asked about calls to censure or impeach Thomas specifically, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said: “It’s much too early to talk about either one of those. I think we have to wait and see what the Jan. 6 committee finds.”

This is standard Democratic can-kicking, playing defense instead of offense. What they need to be doing right now is shaming the conservative bloc with every tool at their disposal.

Because what’s the point here? The point is to prevent the court from doing to same-sex marriage and contraception and sexual privacy what it did to abortion, right? The only conceivable way to do that, until there’s a liberal majority on the court again, is to turn public opinion so strongly against the conservative majority that at least two of them see that overturning Obergefell and Griswold and Lawrence will destroy the court’s standing in a way that will lead to open defiance of its holdings and the eventual crumbling of our system of laws.

That’s the only sword Democrats and liberals have. They have to threaten to use it. Reminding the voting public again and again that the conservatives all lied their way onto the court will help lower their stature, and lowering their stature is the only way to pressure them to care about raising it by not issuing rulings that brazenly go against what the vast majority of Americans believe.

And yes, part of me hates writing that we have to delegitimize the Supreme Court of the United States. It makes me sad that it has come to this. But it has. The conservative majority, from Bush v. Gore to Dobbs, with a dozen stops in between, has delegitimized itself.

Thomas is the worst of the six, in no small part because of his wife’s “activism.” He also in a recent speech compared himself, as he did years before, to the “termite in your basement.” A staggering analogy: While termites are good in nature, they are nothing but destructive in your basement. It’s a metaphor that tells us everything we need to know about his sick mindset.

He and those other five termites (and yes, I’m counting John Roberts here, as he has been on the wrong side of major decisions more often than not) are out to destroy our way of life. Democrats need to understand this and fight accordingly. Are we really going to let states police what adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms? This is much bigger than a conflict of interest in one case. Arguing that point alone is like bringing a knife to a cannon fight.