Imagine if a Supreme Court justice was married to a radical activist who defended a group charged with sedition, encouraged a rally challenging election results, and gave out awards to people with an interest in cases appearing before the Court.
As it turns out, you don’t have to imagine. That’s a description of Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
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For years, Ginni Thomas has been a walking conflict of interest that everyone has seemingly agreed not to talk about. It’s not as if she tried to hide. She’s been a fixture in conservative circles since the 1980s. She has had her own lobbying firm for more than a decade.
But thanks to a new profile of Ginni in The New Yorker, the spotlight is on the Thomases, and not in a good way. The headline for the story tells it all: Is Ginni Thomas a threat to the Supreme Court?
It’s pretty hard to answer no.
The public’s faith in the Supreme Court is at its lowest level since polling began. Just 40 percent of Americans approve of the Court’s work.
Chief Justice John Roberts has both waved off concerns about the politicization of the Court and taken steps to protect its reputation. Roberts’ vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act, considered an act of betrayal by Republicans, was viewed by many as an attempt to preserve the legitimacy in the Court in the eyes of most Americans.
Yet Ginni Thomas has been undermining Roberts’ efforts for years, intentionally or otherwise. Her husband is now the longest serving Justice on the Court — but for more than 30 years, her activities, which are pretty hard core, have not been subject to much scrutiny, except for some passing glances every once in a while.
One of those times came in 2019, when a group of far-right extremists led by Thomas met at the White House with then-President Trump. The meeting was an opportunity for Thomas, who has a long history of anti-LGBTQ animus, and her group to complain about transgender rights and marriage equality.
At the time of the meeting, The New York Times oh-so-delicately described Thomas as having “long been close to what had been the Republican party’s fringes” and said it was “unusual” for the wife of a Supreme Court justice to hold such a meeting with the president.
In fact, to be blunt, Thomas is a far right activist and the meeting was a blatant conflict of interest. It should never have happened.
The Trump era was prime time for Thomas in that it brought the fringe, Thomas’ home turf, into the party mainstream. Four years ago, she started handing out the Impact Awards to “courageous cultural warriors” battling the “radical ideologues on the left.” Many of the honorees have submitted amicus briefs to the Supreme Court or petitions asking the Court to hear cases.
Thomas was characteristically Trumpy on social media, complaining about Black Lives Matter and COVID mandates. She also praised the people planning to attend the January 6 Stop the Steal March in Washington. “LOVE MAGA people!!!!” she tweeted. (Untrue rumors later circulated that she paid for buses to transport people to the rally.)
While Thomas wasn’t saying much about Trump’s loss publicly, she was privately and in a very exclusive forum: the private listserv for her husband’s former law clerks, many of whom are now on the federal bench. Normally, the listserv is for talk about personal milestones, but Thomas used it to complain about the election results. She subsequently apologized.
Not that Thomas has changed her tune. In December, she signed a letter to the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection complaining that the Oath Keepers, the far-right militia group, were the subject of “political harassment” and “overtly partisan political persecution.” Also signing onto the letter was Tony Perkins, head of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council.
This month, 11 members of the Oath Keepers were charged with seditious conspiracy in the attack on the Capitol.
The standard defense for Thomas’s behavior is that the activities of the spouse can’t be attributed to the justice. But we have no idea what the firewall is between Ginni and Clarence Thomas that prevents their professional lives from overlapping. By many accounts, Justice Thomas values his wife’s counsel.
Even if it’s not a conflict of interest for him — a highly generous interpretation — it sure is for her. It’s the swampiest example possible from the fantasy world conservatives live in that purports to want to drain the swamp. But, of course, that was never the goal.