Clarence Thomas Recuses Self As SCOTUS Rejects John Eastman's Jan. 6 Appeal

The Supreme Court rejected a request by indicted right-wing attorney John Eastman to throw out court rulings that identified him as a key figure in former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The court’s ruling on Monday affirms lower court decisions that resulted in Capitol riot investigators getting access to Eastman’s emails as part of their probe into the events of Jan. 6, 2021. A federal district judge in California had previously ruled that Eastman’s emails include evidence of a likely crime related to Trump’s attempt to stay in power.

Eastman is considered the legal architect of the plan to have then-Vice President Mike Pence use his ceremonial role to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election so that Trump could stay in power despite losing the race.

Most notably, the Supreme Court ruling says that Justice Clarence Thomas had recused himself from the decision. Thomas has recently come under fire for not recusing himself in cases where he may have a conflict of interest — specifically after a ProPublica report earlier this year revealed that the conservative justice failed to disclose lavish gifts he received from a GOP megadonor for years.

While Thomas did not specify why he recused himself from Monday’s ruling, it is public information that Eastman used to clerk for Thomas. The Trump attorney had also been in contact with the justice’s wife, right-wing activist Ginni Thomas, revealing that she was more involved in trying to overturn the 2020 election than previously known.

Clarence Thomas was also the subject of some of Eastman’s emails. According to emails Politico said were inadvertently made public during a legal fight between Eastman and the House Jan. 6 Committee, top Trump advisers described Thomas as a potential ally in getting the Supreme Court to legitimize Trump’s efforts to stop the peaceful transfer of power.

“Possibly Thomas would end up being the key here — circuit justice, right? We want to frame things so that Thomas could be the one to issue some sort of stay or other circuit justice opinion saying Georgia is in legitimate doubt,” indicted Trump attorney Kenneth Chesebro wrote to Trump’s legal team on Dec. 31, 2020. “Realistically, our only chance to get a favorable judicial opinion by Jan. 6, which might hold up the Georgia count in Congress, is from Thomas — do you agree, Prof. Eastman?”

“I think I agree with this,” Eastman responded. “If the court were to give us ‘likely,’ that may be enough to kick the Georgia Legislature into gear, because I’ve been getting a lot of calls from them indicating to me they’re leaning that way.”

In August, a Georgia grand jury indicted Eastman and 18 other co-defendants — including Trump himself — on charges related to trying to overturn the 2020 election results in the state. The California bar is also engaged in an effort to strip Eastman’s law license for his involvement in such a scheme.

Eastman had tried to shield his emails from the House Jan. 6 committee, claiming they were protected by attorney-client privilege. In a set of rulings last year, U.S. District Judge David Carter agreed with the Jan. 6 committee that there was an exception for any ongoing or future crimes.

“This may have been the first time members of President Trump’s team transformed a legal interpretation of the Electoral Count Act into a day-by-day plan of action,” Carter wrote, adding that Eastman’s actions amounted to a “coup in search of a legal theory.”

In his petition to the Supreme Court, Eastman said that the House Jan. 6 committee unwittingly made his emails public by leaving a live URL inside one of the court filings that Politico accessed. The Trump attorney argued that Carter’s rulings should be thrown out because the committee’s error subverted Eastman’s efforts to block his emails from Jan. 6 investigators.

Eastman appealed to the Supreme Court after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his effort. The high court’s decision on Monday affirms Carter’s rulings, solidifying evidence of Eastman’s involvement in overturning the 2020 election.

Last week, at least 40 Supreme Court watchdog and accountability organizations sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts demanding he ensure conflicted justices recuse themselves from upcoming cases, including Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo.

The letter said Thomas must recuse himself from the case challenging the Chevron doctrine because he has attended fundraising retreats sponsored by the Koch network, which brought the case before the Supreme Court.

“Justices Thomas and [Samuel] Alito recusing themselves from cases involving former clerks and personal stock holdings is Ethics 101 — so it’s a total no-brainer that they should also recuse themselves from key upcoming cases involving their billionaire friends and close allies,” Caroline Ciccone, president of government watchdog Accountable.US, said in a statement on Monday.

“It’s far past time for these justices to stop putting their billionaire pals over everyday Americans,” she continued. “Recusing themselves from cases where they have glaring conflicts of interest is the very least they can do to restore some semblance of credibility and integrity to our Supreme Court.”