Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas should recuse from Jan. 6 cases

Of course, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito should recuse himself from the court’s two cases involving former president Donald Trump. One case concerns Trump’s quest for immunity from prosecution for his attempt to overturn the 2020 election results. The other is about whether a particular obstruction charge can be employed against the Jan 6 rioters who attacked the nation’s capital in support of Trump’s false claim he won the election.

Alito shouldn’t participate in the cases because two flags supporting Trump and the rioters — one an upside-down American flag, the other an Appeal to Heaven flag — flew outside Alito’s homes, apparently put there by Alito’s wife.

And of course, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should also recuse himself from these cases. His conservative activist wife Ginni not only attended the Jan. 6 insurrection, she’s an avid supporter of Trump’s who called Joseph Biden’s legitimate election the “greatest heist of our history” in a text to former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

The actions and words of Martha-Ann Alito and Ginni Thomas both at least give the appearance of blatant conflicts of interest.

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What does SCOTUS' ethics code say?

The Supreme Court’s own ethics code says that justices should “avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety … A Justice should disqualify himself or herself from a proceeding in which the Justice’s impartiality might be reasonably questioned, that is, where an unbiased and reasonable person who is aware of all relevant circumstances would doubt that the Justice could fairly discharge his or her duties.”

Those actions by the two people closest to the justices of the most powerful court in the land obviously give “the appearance of impropriety” so that a “reasonable person who is aware of all relevant circumstances would doubt that the Justice could fairly discharge his or her duties.”

The conflicts of interest aren’t limited to the two conservative justices. Liberal Sonia Sotomayer should have recused herself from three Supreme Court cases that involved her book publisher. Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, who used the same publisher, also should have recused himself from the one case involving that publisher since he joined the court.

The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never should have called then candidate Donald Trump a “faker” in 2016 – on the chance that she might have to rule on a case involving him. She also should have disqualified herself from cases involving companies that were in her husband’s retirement account.

Like Alito and Thomas, these justices may have thought they could be fair in any case, but that “appearance of impropriety” — or bias — would have tainted their rulings.

Why impartiality matters

I speak from personal experience about making sure you appear impartial about an issue.

About a dozen years ago, I covered one of the most controversial issues that Sullivan County, the Catskills and much of the mid-Hudson region ever faced: the natural gas extraction process of fracking. It was an issue so divisive that it split families.

As a reporter, I of course stayed neutral and covered the issue — and the people and emotions — from both sides. As a veteran journalist, I was able to do that and not have any personal feelings.

I quickly realized that if my wife did or said anything that could be viewed as supporting either side, that would jeopardize the appearance of my neutrality. That would hurt my credibility — which was all I had as a reporter.

Not only did I ask her not to go to any meetings about fracking or even speak about the issue with her friends — many of whom were against fracking and often asked her for the latest news — I asked her not to even speak about her opinions on the issue with me. That was tough for both of us since it was such a hot topic.

Steve Israel
Steve Israel

But I knew that if word got out about how the person closest to me felt about fracking, people from both sides could easily assume that I felt the same way.

Fracking was an issue that affected a region I covered. The issues before the Supreme Court — about Trump, presidential immunity and the consequences for Jan. 6 rioters — are issues that could forever affect our entire country. That means those cases could change the course of world history.

Surely, even the faintest hint of any prior bias from any Supreme Court justice could cast doubt about his impartiality.

And that’s why Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas should recuse themselves from these crucially important cases.

Steve Israel, a longtime editor and columnist at the Times Herald-Record in Orange County, New York, can be reached at

This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: Why Alito and Thomas should recuse from Jan. 6 cases