Supreme Court denies Jan. 6 appeal from former Trump lawyer John Eastman
Justice Clarence Thomas did not participate in the decision involving his former law clerk, the architect of Trump’s legal strategy to overturn 2020 election
Eastman, who was a law clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas, was the architect of the legal strategy Trump used to try to overturn his election loss to President Biden. He faces criminal charges in Georgia, along with Trump, in connection with those efforts, and his conduct is described in the federal indictment of Trump in Washington on charges of trying to obstruct the election results.
Thomas “took no part” in the high court’s decision to deny Eastman’s request to vacate the ruling by the lower court, which stemmed from a lawsuit Eastman filed to try to block a congressional committee examining the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol from obtaining his emails.
In March, a federal judge in California sided with the committee and ordered Eastman to turn over his emails. While the lawsuit was a civil matter, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter said in his order that Eastman and Trump had likely committed crimes in trying to overturn the election.
“The illegality of the plan was obvious,” Carter wrote in finding that Eastman’s emails could not be shielded by attorney-client privilege. “Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history.”
The Supreme Court issued the order denying Eastman’s request to vacate the ruling on the first day of its new term, which will include politically sensitive cases involving gun rights, the future of free speech on social media platforms, and racial gerrymandering. The justices are also facing pressure from Democratic lawmakers to address ethics issues, including potential conflicts of interest.
Thomas’s decision to step away in the Eastman matter was a departure from his previous participation in cases involving the investigation of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Thomas was the only member of the court last year to side with Trump’s request to withhold White House documents from the committee. He was criticized for participating in that decision because his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, was actively involved in challenging the election results.
Thomas did not provide an explanation for his recusal in the court’s brief order regarding Eastman.
In his petition to the Supreme Court, Eastman urged the justices to reverse the lower court ruling on his emails and formally wipe out the decision because of what he described as the significant legal and political ramifications for Trump, the leading Republican candidate for president in the 2024 election.
Eastman took issue with the House select committee’s decision to access and inadvertently publish the disputed documents before his appeal was resolved. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit refused to vacate the district court opinion.
Eastman told the justices that he and Trump were denied an opportunity to show that the district court’s conclusions were “clearly erroneous, thus clearing his name and that of his former client, former President Trump.”