LA Times suddenly wary of judicial activism and spouses

posted at 3:00 pm on March 14, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

I really wish the media would get its story straight on spouses and activism. When Bill Clinton ran for President, the media scolded people who began questioning whether Hillary Clinton would use her influence to shape policy in the White House. Counter-critics called it a form of gender discrimination, and Hillary famously responded to it by defiantly noting that “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas,” but decided to have her own career in law and politics.

Suddenly, though, the LA Times and Kathleen Hennessey have a problem with activist wives. Hennessey profiles Virginia “Ginny” Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and speculates throughout the article that Thomas’ work as an activist with Liberty Central may cross lines of judicial objectivity:

In January, Virginia Thomas created Liberty Central Inc., a nonprofit lobbying group whose website will organize activism around a set of conservative “core principles,” she said.

The group plans to issue score cards for Congress members and be involved in the November election, although Thomas would not specify how. She said it would accept donations from various sources — including corporations — as allowed under campaign finance rules recently loosened by the Supreme Court. …

Experts say Virginia Thomas’ work doesn’t violate ethical rules for judges. But Liberty Central could give rise to conflicts of interest for her husband, they said, as it tests the norms for judicial spouses. The couple have been married since 1987.

“I think the American public expects the justices to be out of politics,” said University of Texas law school professor Lucas A. “Scot” Powe, a court historian.

He said the expectations for spouses are far less clear. “I really don’t know because we’ve never seen it,” Powe said.

In case Hennessey’s too subtle for some LA Times readers to get the point in the beginning of the article, she closes with this:

Because of a recent Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the group may also spend corporate money freely to advocate for or against candidates for office.

Justice Thomas was part of the 5-4 majority in that case.

The clear insinuation is that Thomas has already begun throwing cases to benefit his wife. Never mind that Thomas has always opposed the BCRA’s efforts to limit political speech, or that obviously four other justices agreed with Thomas. Hennessey’s busily connecting dots to write an editorial under the guise of objective journalism.

Andy McCarthy blows his stack at the double standard applied to Ginny Thomas and a certain “wise Latina” last year:

I’ve looked through other articles by Ms. Hennessey, searching for one about whether she thought the high court would be compromised by the appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Prior to her appointment, Justice Sotomayor herself — not her spouse, herself — was a Leftist activist (board member and top policy maker at the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education fund) who infamously opined that a “wise Latina” is more apt to make good decisions that a mere “white male who hasn’t lived that life.” Doesn’t seem to have troubled Ms. Hennessey, though.

Nor did the journalist fret about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg also had an extensive pre-Supreme Court career in Leftist causes (e.g., co-director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project in the 1970s) — and on while on the Court she has been a reliable Leftist vote who, for example, champions resort to international law to interpret the U.S. Constitution and, in a bizarre extrajudicial comment, favorably linked abortion with eugenics (“Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion” (emphasis added)).

No, none of that bothers the media. The Court’s ballyhooed “impartiality” is only threatened because a conservative male justice is married to a conservative woman who has a life and career of her own, which was once thought to be the feminist ideal.

Andy’s right; this article is a disgrace, not the least reason of which is that Ginny Thomas is hardly a newcomer to activism. She spent some time at Heritage Foundation before moving to Hillsdale College, which isn’t exactly the refuge from conservative activism that Hennessey assumes. Liberty Central aims to give grassroots activists a broader understanding of the philosophy of conservatism rather than doing a lot of organizing themselves. I’m not sure why that gives Hennessey such heartburn, but it hardly sets up any conflict of interest for Thomas … unless Hennessey and the LAT want to argue that wives should do nothing but bake cookies and hold teas.

If the Los Angeles Times wants to blow the lid off of political connections on the Supreme Court, they should start with the actual justices. Andy gives them a couple of good leads. Will they pursue them as energetically as they do the spouse in this case, a spouse who has been well known as an activist for several years? Don’t hold your breath.

On a personal note, I’ve met Ginny a few times and found her to be warm, open, honest, soft-spoken, and straightforward. I interviewed her at CPAC about Liberty Central, and I’ve embedded the interview here so that readers can learn more about this ambitious and important project.


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