Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, sent text messages urging former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to act to overturn the 2020 presidential election — furthering then-President Donald Trump's debunked claims that the free and fair vote was marred by nonexistent fraud, according to copies of the messages obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News.
The 29 messages the pair exchanged came in the weeks after Biden won the election in November 2020, when Trump and his top allies were still saying they planned to go to the Supreme Court to have its results voided. While the texts do not directly reference Virginia Thomas' husband or the Supreme Court, she previously admitted to attending Trump's “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
After news of the text message exchange broke on March 24, several people on social media, including U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, began calling for Justice Thomas to be impeached from the Supreme Court. There were also claims online that suggested the justice, who was discharged from the hospital on March 25 after a nearly weeklong stay for an infection, would quietly resign due to health reasons. Recent online searches also show people are wondering if a Supreme Court justice has ever been impeached.
Has a Supreme Court justice ever been impeached?
Yes, a Supreme Court justice has been impeached before. Associate Justice Samuel Chase was impeached in 1805.
WHAT WE FOUND
The United States Constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole power to impeach a federal official, such as a Supreme Court justice, for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors, and it makes the Senate the sole court for impeachment trials, according to the U.S. House’s History, Art & Archives website. The White House explains Supreme Court justices can remain in office until they resign, pass away, or are impeached and convicted by Congress.
The only Supreme Court justice to ever be impeached was Associate Justice Samuel Chase in 1805, according to the Supreme Court. However, while the House of Representatives passed Articles of Impeachment against Chase in 1804, he was acquitted by the Senate and remained on the court until his death in 1811.
Chase, who had served on the Supreme Court since 1796, was a “staunch Federalist with a volcanic personality” who refused to tone down his “bitter partisan rhetoric” after Jeffersonian Republicans gained control of Congress in 1801, the U.S. Senate explains on its website.
At the urging of President Thomas Jefferson, Rep. John Randolph of Virginia orchestrated impeachment proceedings against Chase, and on March 12, 1804, the House voted to impeach him. They accused Chase of constantly promoting his political agenda on the bench, refusing to dismiss biased jurors, and excluding or limiting defense witnesses in two politically sensitive cases.
On Jan. 4, 1805, Chase appeared before members of the Senate to answer to the charges and declared that he was being tried for his political convictions rather than for any real crime. During the trial, which began on Feb. 4, 1805, Chase's defense team convinced several senators that the justice’s conduct did not warrant his removal from office, according to the U.S. Senate website. On March 1, 1805, the Senate acquitted Chase on all counts and he resumed his seat on the bench, where he stayed until his death on June 19, 1811.
“The Senate’s failure to remove Chase from the bench was seen as a victory for judicial independence and established the precedent that a judge could not be removed as a result of stating political views from the bench,” according to Oyez, a free multimedia archive from Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (LII), Justia, and the Chicago-Kent College of Law.
While some politicians have called for Justice Clarence Thomas’ impeachment, the House has not initiated impeachment proceedings against him in order to formally start the process.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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