Ginni Thomas speaks at a Mesquite, Texas Tea Party rally in September.
Justice Clarence Thomas probably had a ho-hum day on June 7, 2010. From time to time, the Supreme Court of the United States makes historic decisions, but on that day, it didn’t. It handed down three noncontroversial rulings, and in all of them, Justice Thomas voted, non controversially, with the majority.
His wife, on the other hand, started the day in a blaze of publicity. Virginia Lamp Thomas, known to all as Ginni, appeared that morning on Sean Hannity’s Fox show. Wearing a TV-red jacket, Thomas bantered with Hannity about the “tyranny” President Barack Obama and his party are inflicting on the country. Then Thomas, who had recently launched a nonprofit called Liberty Central, sounded a dire warning. “We are in a fight for our country’s life,” she said. “We’ve all got to do whatever we can.” Channeling Tea Party rhetoric, she called on conservative voters to give money, sign petitions, and, in November, overthrow those who are turning “citizens” into “subjects.”
Her overt disgust with Obama and Liberty’s political tone have caused some on the left to wonder whether her new job puts her in conflict with her husband’s claims to impartiality. “Before it’s too late,” warned the syndicated radio columnist Bill Press, “either Mr. Thomas or Mrs. Thomas should step aside and find another job.” But barring the appearance of Clarence Thomas at a Tea Party rally, even reasonable critics can’t find any ethical impropriety in Ginni’s public role. “I may not agree with Ginni Thomas on any policy issue, but what she’s doing seems—if I can’t say utterly commendable one could certainly say utterly proper in a democracy,” says David Garrow, a historian at Cambridge University. Ginni Thomas is not litigating cases that might end up before the court, nor is she covering the court for a newspaper. This is no big deal, agrees Tom Goldstein, publisher of SCOTUSblog: married couples often have two big jobs between them. “This is a really ironic place for liberals to be,” he says. “They’re giving the impression that a woman can’t have her own independent standing.” In the event that Liberty Central is named as a party in a case that comes before the court, Justice Thomas will have to recuse himself—just as Stephen Reinhardt, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, did in cases brought by the Southern California branch of the ACLU. His wife, Ramona Ripston, ran that branch for 38 years.