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Court allows Jan. 6 committee to obtain phone records of Arizona GOP chair

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The Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for a cellphone provider to turn over call records for Dr. Kelli Ward, the chair of the Arizona Republican Party, to the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Ward had asked the justices to block a subpoena addressed to T-Mobile, arguing that there “could hardly be a starker example of seeking to punish people for having ties to political views regarding the outcome of the 2020 presidential election that many Americans regard as ‘dissident.’” But the committee countered that Ward had “aided a coup attempt,” and on Monday the justices turned down Ward’s request.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito indicated that they would have granted Ward’s request.

Ward appeared before the Jan. 6 committee in March of this year, but she declined to answer any substantive questions, instead invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself. The committee also issued a subpoena to T-Mobile, Ward’s cellphone provider, for Ward’s cellphone records from Nov. 1, 2020, to Jan. 31, 2021.

Ward went to federal court in Arizona, seeking to block the subpoena. In August, the district court dismissed Ward’s case, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected Ward’s plea to put the disclosure of her phone records on hold while she appealed.

Ward came to the Supreme Court on Oct. 24, asking the justices to bar T-Mobile from turning over her phone records. Calling the case “one of the most important First Amendment cases in history,” she told the justices that if her phone records are turned over to the committee, investigators for the committee would contact everyone with whom she had communicated in the wake of the 2020 election. “There can be no greater chill on public participation in partisan politics,” she argued, “than a call, visit, or subpoena, from federal investigators.”

The Jan. 6 committee countered that Ward “played an important role” in the events that led to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, from her efforts to stop the vote count in the state’s largest county to serving as a fake elector “as part of Trump’s scheme to overturn the election on January 6th by sending Congress spurious electoral slates in contravention of the actual electoral outcome in several states.”

The committee emphasized that it does not intend to reach out to everyone who spoke or exchanged messages with Ward. T-Mobile, however, told the justices that the subpoena includes calls that Ward, a practicing physician, made to her patients.

Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas, lobbied Arizona lawmakers in November 2020 to set aside the victory by then-President-elect Joe Biden and choose a “clean slate of Electors.” According to The Washington Post, which first reported on Thomas’ efforts, Ginni Thomas sent emails to two members of the Arizona legislature through an online platform “designed to make it easy to send prewritten form emails to multiple elected officials.” Both Clarence Thomas and Ginni Thomas have insisted that they keep their professional lives separate, and Clarence Thomas has not recused himself from cases relating to the Jan. 6 committee or efforts to undermine the 2020 elections more broadly.

This article was originally published at Howe on the Court.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Court allows Jan. 6 committee to obtain phone records of Arizona GOP chair, SCOTUSblog (Nov. 14, 2022, 12:13 PM),