Sunday, March 28, 2010

Justice Thomas, Your Wife Is On The Docket

Justice Thomas, Your Wife Is On The Docket
The Bonds Between Husbands And Wives Will Always Affect How These Men And Women Behave In Their Public Lives. That Is Why I’m Perfectly Comfortable With Suggesting That Clarence Thomas Remove Himself From Several Supreme Court Cases In The Coming Term.

By Jason Johnson
Published on 03/25/2010

Everyone would like to believe that even if your boss’s wife doesn’t like you that it wouldn’t affect your performance evaluation. We also want to believe that if our best friend’s husband owns a struggling Ford dealership that she won’t be mad when we drive up in a new Hyundai. But deep down, we all know this is not the case. The bonds between husbands and wives will always affect how these men and women behave in their public lives. That is why I’m perfectly comfortable with suggesting that Clarence Thomas remove himself from several Supreme Court cases in the coming term.

Last week it was announced that Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, Justice Thomas’ wife, was starting her own official offshoot of the Tea Party movement called “Liberty Central Inc.” The conservative group will help get the country back on track, and away from the brink of tyranny, by raising a lot of money from conservative activists and sharing information on how the Obama administration is out of control. Virginia Thomas has a history of conservative activism for many years. So while this is not a radical change for her, the creation of such a public group creates a huge conflict of interest for her husband.

During the last State of the Union address President Obama publicly chastised the Supreme Court for their ruling in the “Citizens United” case. In “Citizens United” the Court ruled that private businesses and organizations could now spend unlimited amounts of money during political campaigns. And now Justice Thomas’s wife is starting an organization that will be able to raise unlimited funds to promote their cause without having to reveal any of the donors or the size of their contributions. Thomas is a conservative, and he ruled on this case prior to his wife’s new political adventure.

There is, however, no doubt that Virginia Thomas running an organization with a “Tea Party” agenda associates Justice Thomas with policies and potential rulings that bring his objectivity into question. When his wife’s organization is dependent on the ability to raise and spend funds without limitation do you think that Thomas will rule objectively when Citizens United is eventually challenged? Or rule objectively on any other case dealing with their political agenda? In recent years, conservatives on the court have demonstrated a willingness to skirt the spirit of conflict of interest.

During the Bush vs. Gore recount case in 2000, Justice Antonin Scalia conveniently forgot to mention that TWO of his sons were working for law firms that represented the Bush administration. He claimed that since they weren’t directly involved in Bush vs. Gore he felt no need to share that information. Nice cover, but that didn’t pass the smell test with many appeals judges who felt Scalia was not being forthcoming with the public or the court.

During that same case, Justice Thomas’s wife, Virginia, was working for the pro-Bush conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation and was soliciting resumes from Republican Congressional staffers for ‘transition jobs’ with the new administration. Somehow this too was deemed OK and Thomas chose not to remove himself from the case.

Any suggestion – whether through sons, daughters or wives – that the justices can be influenced by outside sources should be removed so as to at least maintain the image that the court is impartial. Yes, this may put a slight burden on the spouses of Justices, but that’s a small public price to pay for the private influence they all exhibit on American’s lives.

If Virginia Thomas is really that desperate to take a stand on an issue, she should take a hint from Michelle Obama. I am sure that the most important issue to the First Lady is not childhood obesity, but she’s become a champion of an issue that in no way can negatively impact her husband’s professional duties. Virginia Thomas, you should be taking notes.

(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor of political science and communications at Hiram College in Ohio, where he teaches courses in campaigns and elections, pop culture, and the politics of sports. He can be reached at

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