Common Cause filed a complaint in January based on a section of law governing judges and conflicts of interest: 28 U.S.C. § 455 which states:
a) Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned. (b) He shall also disqualify himself in the following circumstances: (1) Where he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding;
§ 455 (b)(4) specifically expands potential conflict of interest to cases that could bring financial benefit to the spouse or child of a judge. The Ethics in Government Act (5 U.S.C. § 102(e)(1)(A)) also requires federal officials, including Supreme Court justices, to disclose spousal income.
Virginia Thomas earned more than $680,000 between 2003 and 2007 from Heritage Foundation and Clarence Thomas reported his spouse had no noninvestment income in his financial disclosure forms. She received more than $500,000 when she started Liberty Central and fought health care reform - but he didn't report that income either.(LA Times story here) Common Cause made public its complaint on Jan. 11 and Thomas filed amended financial disclosures from 1989 to 2009 - 20 years of disclosures - on Jan. 22, 2011. Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, conferred with Common Cause about Thomas' issue and raised concerns about potential violations to Government Ethics Act. He wrote about some of his concerns in the LA Times.