By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
So what’s the wife of a Supreme Court justice supposed to do? Stay home and bake cookies?
That’s never been an option for Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. A longtime political activist, she first stirred up controversy in 2000 when, as a staffer for the Heritage Foundation, she solicited resumes for potential transition members of the George W. Bush administration — while her husband was deciding who would occupy the White House.
Mrs. Thomas is back in hot water as founder of a new advocacy group called Liberty Central, which she describes as a bridge between the conservative political establishment and the anti-establishment Tea Party. “I’m getting to know the Tea Party groups,” she told Human Events magazine. “What I think I can bring to the table is a connective tissue between the new people and the old people.” Especially, she might have added, but didn’t have to, when your husband is an associate justice of the Supreme Court.
Now, no self-respecting liberal would demand that Ginni Thomas abandon her own professional career simply because her husband has a big-time job. Washington’s filled with congressional spouses who lobby, organize, or consult with major corporations and organizations. But most of them do so quietly.
Not Thomas. As head of Liberty Central, she’s adopted the Tea Party rhetoric, accusing President Obama of establishing a “hard left” government and leading the nation toward “tyranny.” On Fox News, she told Sean Hannity her mission was to fight “a massive power grab” in Washington. And the real challenge facing Americans today, she says, is whether we’re “self-governed or ruled; citizens or subjects.”
Most Washington spouses also do a better job of avoiding potential conflicts of interests. Thomas’ organization is a conflict-heavy minefield. Consider, for example, the questionnaire Liberty Central circulated to federal candidates seeking their endorsement. It includes the question: “Would you support repealing the Obama health-care bill, including the individual mandate?” Since several state attorneys-general have already filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate, that question will eventually be decided by the high court. Will Justice Thomas recuse himself?
Other potential conflicts abound. Candidates are also asked to state their views on the constitutionality of government regulation of greenhouse-gas emissions, Congress’s use of the “general welfare” clause, free-trade agreements, enforcement of the border, federal bailouts, the administration’s conduct of the war on terror, and federal spending levels — which reads like the list of cases now before court. Is Clarence Thomas expected just to sit out the entire next session?
And then there’s the question of money. As first reported by Politico, Ginni Thomas launched her organization in November 2009 with two big donations: one for $50,000 and one for $500,000. They are the only contributions reported so far. Yet, according to rules governing 501 (c)(4) organizations, the donors’ identity is not revealed. Only Ginni Thomas and her staff know who they are — and, presumably, Justice Thomas. What happens when one of Mrs. Thomas’ secret corporate donors has an interest in a case before the court? We’d have to depend on the honesty of Justice Thomas to make public the connection and step aside.
Conflict? There is none, Mrs. Thomas told World Net Daily, because she and her husband maintain a strict separation between their family and professional lives. In other words, she heads a political organization and he’s a Supreme Court justice, yet they never talk politics. If you believe that, I have a CD of Long Dong Silver I’d like to sell you.
Even if Mrs. Thomas sees no conflict, there’s an obvious one facing the justice. Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct reads: “Outside Influence. A judge should not allow family, social, political, financial or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment.” Et tu, Clarence?
Again, Ginni Thomas is doing nothing illegal or immoral … yet. But, by taking advantage of her husband’s position to build a political-advocacy organization and raise funds, she is clearly setting both her and her husband up for trouble. Imagine the outcry among conservatives had Justice Steve Breyer’s wife headed Moveon.org and accused President George W. Bush of tyranny.
As everyone in Washington knows, in public life it’s important not only to avoid wrongdoing, but also to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing. Before it’s too late, either Mrs. Thomas — or Mr. Thomas — should step aside and find another job.
© 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.