Dems ramp up attacks on Justice Thomas ahead of health law ruling

House Democrats wrote to the U.S. Judicial Conference on Friday urging the watchdog agency to request that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder investigate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Thomas is under scrutiny for failing to report at least $1.6 million that his wife earned from conservative interests between 1997 and 2007. The letter, spearheaded by House Rules ranking member Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and signed by 51 House Democrats, comes after newly released documents show Thomas properly reported his wife's income for at least seven years before 1997.

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The move aims to discredit Thomas ahead of the Supreme Court's ruling next year on Democrats' healthcare reform law. Slaughter and other House Democrats have asked for Thomas to recuse himself in that case, because his wife has financial ties to groups that want the law stuck down.

"The new details that have emerged show that Justice Thomas had a firm understanding of the steps necessary to properly disclose all information required by federal law," Slaughter said in a statement. "Knowing this, his failure to properly disclose financial information between 1997 and 2007 is even more curious. It is high time that the appropriate authorities fully investigate this issue to determine if his failure to disclose this information was willful."

Slaughter also delivered a petition signed by 131,386 Americans asking for an investigation.

Meanwhile, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain on Thursday added to the growing chorus of conservatives pressing for Justice Elena Kagan to recuse herself because she expressed support for healthcare reform when she was the Obama administration's top lawyer.

"I request that Justice Kagan recuse herself immediately from hearing the ObamaCare case," Cain said in a statement. "Members of the highest court in the land should be impartial, strictly follow the Constitution and should not carry water for former employers in the White House."

And on Friday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and three other senators wrote to Holder demanding that he comply with congressional oversight requests regarding Kagan’s role in the administration’s defense of the health care law. Holder has said Kagan was removed from any meetings where litigation was discussed, but Republicans want to see evidence that she was not privy to discussions of legal claims and litigation strategy concerning court challenges to the law. 

"When a former member of the Administration is in a position to rule on litigation in which she apparently had some involvement and which concerns legislation she herself supports, public confidence in the administration of justice is undermined," reads the letter, which was also signed by Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. "Your Department’s refusal to provide information to the Congress that could eliminate this apparent conflict of interest only undermines that confidence further."

The partisan recusal calls are very unlikely to be heeded but help to excite both parties' bases. Lawyers with business before the court, however, aren't amused.

Asked this week by Fox News if she was "disturbed" by a Kagan email calling passage of the law "simply amazing," Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi — one of the lawyers challenging the law — didn't bite.

"We have a case pending before these justices right now, and they are going to do the right thing," Bondi said. "It's the highest court in the land; and if they feel they have a conflict, they'll recuse themselves, and if not, they'll remain on the case and do the right thing."

Attorney Tom Goldstein, the co-founder of SCOTUSblog who is representing AARP in defense of the law, put it more bluntly.

"What's going on is transparent: Both sides are trying to delegitimize votes on the other side, which is just a terrible shame," Goldstein said. "That's the politicization of the Supreme Court."