- Sonia Sotomayor praised her colleague Clarence Thomas amid scrutiny of his wife, Ginni Thomas.
- "He is a man who cares deeply about the court as an institution," the liberal justice said.
- Some Democrats have called for Thomas' resignation over his wife's push to overturn the election.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Thursday heaped praise on her conservative colleague Justice Clarence Thomas, who's facing a wave of scrutiny over his wife's involvement in trying to overturn the 2020 election.
"He is a man who cares deeply about the Court as an institution, about the people who work there," Sotomayor told members of the American Constitution Society at the progressive legal group's annual convention on Thursday.
Sotomayor's comments came in response to a question about how she — a liberal jurist appointed by President Barack Obama — manages to cultivate relationships with her staunchly conservative colleagues. Thomas, the longest-serving member of the court, was appointed by George H.W. Bush and is widely considered the most conservative justice on the bench.
"Maybe this is not true anymore, but I suspect I have probably disagreed with him more than with any other justice. That we have not joined each other's opinions more than anybody else," Sotomayor said of Thomas. "Yet Justice Thomas is the one justice in the building that literally knows every employee's name. Every one of them."
Sotomayor went on to characterize the pair's opposing ideologies, saying: "Justice Thomas believes that every person can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I believe that some people can't get to their bootstraps without help."
"That's a very different philosophy of life, but I think we share a common understanding about people and kindness towards them," she added. "That's why I can be friends with him and still continue our daily battle over our difference of opinions in cases."
In her remarks, Sotomayor did not address recent controversies surrounding the Supreme Court, including last month's leaked draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, and several news reports about efforts pursued by Thomas' wife, longtime conservative activist Ginni Thomas, to challenge the 2020 election results.
—CSPAN (@cspan) June 17, 2022
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that before January 6, Ginni Thomas corresponded with John Eastman, a conservative pro-Trump lawyer who promoted a fringe legal theory positing that then-Vice President Mike Pence could throw out electors from key battleground states as Congress met to certify Joe Biden's win on January 6, 2021.
Earlier news reports showed that Ginni Thomas emailed 29 Republican lawmakers in Arizona, urging them to overturn Biden's victory in the state. In the days after the election, Ginni Thomas also sent a slew of text messages to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, pressuring him to tell then-President Donald Trump not to concede.
Those messages are in the possession of the House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot, which sent a letter to Ginni Thomas on Thursday, requesting a meeting with her. Ginni Thomas said she looks forward to meeting with the congressional panel.
It's unclear whether Justice Thomas was aware of his wife's advocacy surrounding the election and the justice has not recused himself from any case before the Court relating to the 2020 election or the January 6 Capitol riot. In light of the reports, several Democratic lawmakers have called for Thomas' recusal from relevant Supreme Court cases. Some members of the party, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Veronica Escobar of Texas, Hank Johnson of Georgia, Nydia Velázquez of New York, have gone further, demanding Thomas' impeachment or resignation.
—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 29, 2022
Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey became the latest lawmaker to call for Thomas' resignation on Thursday.
"Over the last few years, we have become numb to bad acts by powerful actors, but Clarence and Ginni Thomas have participated in one of the worst breaches of trust ever seen in our court system," Pascrell said in a statement, issued just as the January 6 committee's hearing began. "Clarence Thomas cannot possibly be seen as a neutral actor but instead as a corrupt jurist who has poisoned the High Court."
"Clarence Thomas should have dignity and final respect for our democracy and resign," he added.
Sotomayor's comments also come as the Supreme Court is expected to issue a series of politically contentious decisions in the coming days and weeks, concerning abortion, guns, and religion.