1803 Justice Chase impeachment shows Democrats may be able to pressure Thomas with political threats: expert

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If impeached by House Democrats, Justice Clarence Thomas would be the second Supreme Court judge to ever face such a harsh sanction from Congress.

“Clarence Thomas must resign,” tweeted Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y. Tuesday. If not, his inability to disclose earnings from right-wing organizations, abstain from cases involving his wife, and his vote to block the Jan. 6 commission from vital information should be investigated and may be serve as grounds for impeachment.”

Several other Democrats join Ocasio-Cortez in calling on Thomas to resign, including Representative Betty McCollum, D-Minn., as recently as Wednesday. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., called on Thomas to be impeached last Saturday.

These calls come after Thomas’s wife, Virginia, and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows revealed she was urging former President Donald Trump’s advisers to try to undo the 2020 election. Democrats are most appalled that Thomas took part in a Jan. 6 committee case, despite his wife’s involvement in those efforts.

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Thomas would join Judge Samuel Chase as the only Supreme Court justices ever impeached if Democrats heed their threats.

It is not clear that there is enough political momentum behind those calls for a Thomas impeachment proceedings to actually take place. But Chase’s impeachment could serve as a playbook for Democrats on how to get what they want out of such an effort without actually removing a judge.

Chase’s impeachment came in the wake of the 1800 presidential election when Jeffersonian Republicans rose to power in the presidency and in Congress. This left the judiciary as the last bastion of Federalist power in government, which became a political target for Jeffersonian Republicans.

“Chase’s impeachment reflects a kind of political pressure by the Jeffersonian Republicans, by his allies in Congress against the kind of Federalist power bulwark in the Supreme Court,” James Wallner, senior board member of the R Street Institute, told Fox News Digital.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas delivers a keynote speech at a dedication of Georgia’s new Nathan Deal Judicial Center in Atlanta, Feb. 11, 2020.
(AP Photo/John Amis, File)

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Chase was a vocal pro-federalist, campaigning for John Adams in the 1800 presidential election, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The House finally voted in 1804 to impeach Chase for a variety of alleged wrongdoings largely related to his politics.

A majority of senators voted to convict Chase in his Senate trial next year. But the body failed to reach the two-thirds threshold to convict, at least in part due to decisions by some senators that a justice should not be impeached over politics, according to the CRS.

But Wallner said in his reading of the Constitution, there’s nothing to say this Congress can’t impeach someone for politics — and that Democrats can impeach Thomas for alleged political reasons if they want to.

Engraved portrait of the American jurist, delegate to the Continental Congress and signatory of the Declaration of Independence Samuel Chase (1741-1811).  Chase was an assistant judge on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1796 to 1811 and, because of his federalist leanings, was the victim of a partisan attempt to impeach him.

Engraved portrait of the American jurist, delegate to the Continental Congress and signatory of the Declaration of Independence Samuel Chase (1741-1811). Chase was an assistant judge on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1796 to 1811 and, because of his federalist leanings, was the victim of a partisan attempt to impeach him.
(Stock Montage/Getty Images)

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“Can you blame someone…for their relationship with their spouse? For the things their spouses say and do? I mean, you probably shouldn’t,” Wallner said. “But of course you can.”

Wallner said that even if impeachment never comes, Democrats can still get what they want—less political involvement from Virginia Thomas, or less Supreme Court involvement in election matters in 2020—just by talking about it.

“Going forward, even if the Democrats don’t try to mount an impeachment on Clarence Thomas because of what his wife did, that doesn’t mean … the effort or the conversation won’t affect the behavior of either one,” said Wallner.

An example of the Jeffersonian Republican pressure that had an effect on the Supreme Court during Chase’s time, Wallner said, was the famous Marbury v. Madison case.

†[Federalist Chief Justice] John Marshall…one of the problems he faces is how to get out of Marbury v. Madison without pissing Congress and getting impeached himself?” Wallner said.

Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and a special correspondent for The Daily Caller, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill, Maryland, on Feb. 23, 2017.

Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and a special correspondent for The Daily Caller, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill, Maryland, on Feb. 23, 2017.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

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Marshall’s solution was to rule that William Marbury, appointed by the lame Adams, deserved his judicial commission, which was withheld by Jefferson’s Secretary of State James Madison. But, Marshall further ruled, the law under which Marbury brought his case to the Supreme Court was unconstitutional, and so the court could not order the new Jefferson administration to give him his commission.

The long-term effect of the ruling was to anchor judicial review into the constitutional fabric of the United States. But the short-term political fallout, Wallner said, was that Marshall avoided the wrath of the Jeffersonian Republicans.

“I think … is directly related to and informed by the climate of the era and the efforts to impeach Chase and other federal judges,” Wallner said.

As another example of political pressure swinging Supreme Court justices, Wallner pointed to the “Switch in Time that Saved Nine” in the 1930s.

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When former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pushed a court-packing scheme because the Supreme Court scrapped his policy, the judges suddenly seemed to be enforcing his policy.

This took the steam out of Roosevelt’s court suit attempt. But it also helped the president make a permanent mark on American society through his New Deal.

It is not clear whether any matters Thomas hears regarding the Jan. 6 commission or the 2020 elections could have such significance. But the Democrats make it clear that they want him gone anyway.

“Virginia Thomas’s involvement in the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election, and Judge Thomas’s subsequent attempts to cover up his wife’s actions, have ethically compromised associate justice and thus rendered it unfit to be a neutral umpire. to be,” McCollum said Wednesday. †

Remy Numa of Fox News contributed to this report.

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