Supreme Court Denies Petition, With Recusal From Justice Clarence Thomas

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recused himself from a case involving his former law clerk and former Trump attorney, John Eastman.
Supreme Court Denies Petition, With Recusal From Justice Clarence Thomas
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas poses for the official group photo at the U.S. Supreme Court in the District of Columbia on Nov. 30, 2018. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
Jack Phillips

The U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 2 rejected an appeal from attorney John Eastman after a lower court found that he may have acted in a criminal manner regarding legal advice he provided to former President Donald Trump, prompting a recusal from Justice Clarence Thomas.

The Supreme Court left intact the lower court ruling that mandates that Mr. Eastman hand over emails to the House of Representatives' Jan. 6 committee, which was dissolved earlier this year as Republicans took control of the chamber. Justice Thomas didn't issue a written statement in the order, and the Supreme Court provided no reasoning for denying his petition.

"The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied," the order said. "Justice Thomas took no part in the consideration or decision of this petition."

Mr. Eastman, a former law professor, was once a clerk for Justice Thomas and reportedly was in contact with the justice's wife, Ginni Thomas, in recent years. Last year, he denied correspondence with Ms. Thomas regarding "any matters pending or likely to come before the Court."

His case concerns an attempt to block the U.S. House subcommittee's efforts to force his former workplace, Chapman University, to provide emails.

Mr. Eastman had represented the former president in a lawsuit that sought to challenge voting results in four states, and he later spoke at the rally before the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol breach. Mr. Eastman had theorized that then-Vice President Mike Pence could refuse to certify the 2020 election results during the Jan. 6 Joint Session of Congress. Mr. Pence ultimately did certify the election results.

That prompted Mr. Eastman to file a lawsuit in federal court to prevent his former employer from complying with the subcommittee's subpoena. U.S. District Court Judge David Carter in Santa Ana, California, in 2022 ordered certain emails to be turned over, including those related to President Trump and Mr. Eastman's court efforts to delay congressional certification after the 2020 election.

Attorney–client communications are normally safeguarded from disclosure. However, a so-called crime-fraud exception applies when a judge determines that those communications were meant to further or conceal a crime.

Judge Carter wrote in his order that President Trump and Mr. Eastman had "more likely than not" committed a crime in trying to obstruct Congress.

Mr. Eastman has sought to erase the judge's determination that the crime-fraud exception applied to some of the emails. His lawyers argued that given the fact that the emails eventually were publicly disclosed and left the legal case moot, Judge Carter's ruling "imposes a stigma" on both him and Trump and should be voided.

"That ruling created a stigma for both Petitioner and his client, the former President of the United States and current candidate for the presidency," Mr. Eastman's appeal to the top court said.

 John Eastman at the Ellipse, near the White House, on Jan. 6, 2021. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
John Eastman at the Ellipse, near the White House, on Jan. 6, 2021. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
The former Trump attorney appealed to the Supreme Court after the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in November 2022 rejected his request to wipe out the judge's crime-fraud decision.

Other Legal Trouble

Aside from the subpoena case, Mr. Eastman is one of 19 defendants who face racketeering charges in Georgia for their activity in the wake of the 2020 election. In August, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis charged him, President Trump, and the others in the case; all the defendants initially pleaded not guilty, although one has since agreed to plead guilty to five misdemeanor counts of conspiracy.
After surrendering to the charges in August, Mr. Eastman issued a statement criticizing the indictment, saying it "should never have been brought" and that it targets "attorneys for their zealous advocacy on behalf of their clients."

“It represents a crossing of the Rubicon for our country, implicating the fundamental First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances,” he said. “The attempt to criminalize our rights to such redress with this indictment will have ... profound consequences for our system of justice." The former Chapman University law school dean also faces disbarment proceedings in California.

More than 100 former law clerks, including Mr. Eastman, who worked under Justice Thomas, signed an open letter defending the justice's integrity after he was accused in left-wing media reports of taking gifts from GOP donors.

"Different paths led us to our year with Justice Thomas, and we have followed different paths since. But along the way, we all saw with our own eyes the same thing: His integrity is unimpeachable," reads the letter, which appeared to be in response to a series of ProPublica reports that focused on the justice.

It added: “Lately, the stories have questioned his integrity and his ethics for the friends he keeps. We are proud to have been his clerks and to remain his friends, and we unequivocally reject attacks on his integrity, his character, or his ethics.”

An attorney for Mr. Eastman, Harvey Silvergate, told news outlets at the time of the letter's publication that his client "was a law clerk for Justice Thomas," and that "there is obviously a cordial relationship between them."

Reuters contributed to this report.
Jack Phillips is a breaking news reporter with 15 years experience who started as a local New York City reporter. Having joined The Epoch Times' news team in 2009, Jack was born and raised near Modesto in California's Central Valley. Follow him on X: