Just days before Clarence Thomas considers two cases that could shape American elections for years to come, his wife, Ginni Thomas, appeared before the January 6 committee to testify about her role in trying to overturn the results of the last one — a race she still maintains, without evidence, was “stolen” from Donald Trump by Joe Biden. “She said that,” January 6 committee chair Bennie Thompson recalled to reporters after the interview.
During the closed-door sit-down, Ginni Thomas apparently acknowledged her communications with the Trump White House, in which she urged then chief of staff Mark Meadows and lawmakers in key swing states to do more to help the former president remain in office after his 2020 loss. But she maintained that her husband was unaware of her efforts: She “never” discussed it with him, she told congressional investigators, adding that she abided by an “iron clad rule” in their house to not discuss her activism. “I generally do not discuss with him my day-to-day work in politics, the topics I am working on, who I am calling, emailing, texting, or meeting,” Thomas said, claiming that her husband is “uninterested in politics.”
If it’s outrageous to expect Americans to just take her word for it, then it’s especially so with the high court poised to reconvene in October for a session that will include two major cases concerning elections: A North Carolina lawsuit that would give state legislatures more power over the election process, and an Alabama case that could further weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even a narrow ruling on either case could have significant implications for how district maps are drawn and elections are held. But a more far-reaching decision could constitute a challenge to the democratic process itself. “You cannot look at these cases objectively without acknowledging the fact that, taken together, they could determine whether or not the United States remains as the democracy we have come to love,” former Attorney General Eric Holder told Politico. “I think, unfortunately, we take for granted a democracy that fulfills the promise of one person, one vote.”
The Alabama redistricting case, Milligan v. Merrill, which will go to oral arguments next Tuesday, will force the court to consider whether Black voters in the state had their voting power diluted by the congressional map drawn up by the state’s Republican-led legislature. A lower court agreed with the plaintiffs that the map had violated the Voting Rights Act. If the Supreme Court, dominated 6-3 by conservatives, was to reverse that ruling next year, it could decimate the landmark law and open the door for further voter disenfranchisement.
Meanwhile, the North Carolina case, Moore v. Harper, concerns the so-called “independent state legislature” theory, whose promoters include John Eastman, the ex-Trump attorney whose radical legal theories helped undergird the former president’s attempted coup. According to the theory, legislators — not constitutions or courts — would have ultimate control over the election process. There is a “wide range of ways” the justices might rule, as election law expert Rick Hasen told the Associated Press in June, when the Supreme Court decided to hear the case. But in its most aggressive interpretation, the theory could hand over state election systems to partisans. “It really depends on how far the court is willing to go,” Hasen told Politico Thursday.
It’s not clear how the justices will rule on the two cases, but the conservative supermajority has already been willing to go to extremes: In the last term alone, it took aim at the administrative state, shredded Roe v. Wade, and potentially put a host of other privacy rights — including same-sex marriage — on the chopping block. There is a very real prospect that this court’s conservative bloc, which has acted as an enforcement arm of the Republican Party, could do the same to American election law. If it does, it won’t look like the desperate attacks on the election system Ginni Thomas participated in after Trump’s loss in 2020, but it may only be a different means to a similar end.