Democrats ask for investigation into Clarence Thomas

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, left, accompanied by his wife Virginia Lamp Thomas, right, listen as he is introduced prior to speaking at the Federalist Society in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007, where he spoke about his new book and answered questions from the audience. AP Photo

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, left, accompanied by his wife Virginia Lamp Thomas, right, listen as he is introduced prior to speaking at the Federalist Society in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007.
AP Photo

Twenty House Democrats on Thursday asked for a federal investigation into Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' failure to disclose his wife's income, charging that he may have violated the court's ethics rules.

In a letter to the arm of the court system responsible for overseeing judicial practices, the lawmakers called into question Thomas' impartiality toward President Obama's health care overhaul, just as the landmark legislation is headed to the top court.

Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York and her colleagues assert that Thomas has not complied with disclosure rules under the Ethics in Government Act and asks the Judicial Conference, a group comprised of judges that sets administrative policy for the courts, to refer the issue to the Justice Department for an investigation. The letter specifically charges Thomas failed to report nearly $700,000 of income earned by his wife, Virginia Thomas, for her work for the conservative Heritage Foundation from 2003 to 2007.

"Due to the simplicity of the disclosure requirements, along with Justice Thomas's high level of legal training and experience, it is reasonable to infer that his failure to disclose his wife's income for two decades was willful," the lawmakers wrote.

In a press release accompanying the letter, Slaughter notes that the Heritage Foundation has been a staunch opponent of Mr. Obama's health care overhaul.

Earlier this week, Mr. Obama's Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to quickly take up consideration of an appeals court ruling that declared part of the health care law unconstitutional. The move indicates the administration is confident of the law's legal soundness, but it almost ensures putting the controversial health care reforms back in the spotlight just as the 2012 elections ramp up.

Slaughter said in a statement that Thomas' failure to disclose his wife's income "is suspicious, and according to law, requires further investigation. To accept Justice Thomas's explanation without doing the required due diligence would be irresponsible."

Virginia Thomas has been the subject of scrutiny before, with some questioning whether her advocacy for conservative causes creates a conflict of interest for her husband.

Thomas isn't the only judge who's impartiality on health care reform has been called into question. Last year, during Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings, Republicans said they were concerned about her bias, since she served as the White House's solicitor general when the reforms were crafted.

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