Clarence Thomas, Can’t You Keep Your Wife in the Kitchen?

Spotted over at Outside the Beltway, fresh complaints are being raised about the politically related activities of Virginia Thomas, wife of the Supreme Court justice. Having been hounded out of her association with Liberty Central, she has taken on a new role as a lobbyist.

Now, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, has recast herself yet again, this time as the head of a firm, Liberty Consulting, which boasts on its website using her “experience and connections” to help clients “with “governmental affairs efforts” and political donation strategies.

But her latest career incarnation is sparking controversy again.


Even among congressional Republicans, with whom Thomas boasts she has close ties, the reaction to the entreaties from her new firm, Liberty Consulting ranged from puzzlement to annoyance, with a senior House Republican aide who provided Thomas’s e-mail to POLITICO, blasting her for trying to “cash in” on her ties to the tea party movement.

Critics can couch their words as carefully as they like, but there are really two gripes being aired here. Is Ginni Thomas using her husband’s influence to make money and does this say something about potential bias on the part of her husband?

Tackling these points in reverse order, the second one is pretty easy. Does Justice Thomas have his own particular political ideology which he brings to work at the Supreme Court and might he marry someone who shares those beliefs? You know, I used to dream of a world where our SCOTUS justices would be completely free of partisan leanings, approaching their job wearing the same blindfold as Lady Justice. Now I just dream of having my own magical Pegasus to fly me back and forth to Washington, which is considerably more likely. Even if there are any people like that serving on the bench any more, they’d never make it through a Senate confirmation hearing. This is not unique to either party.

But should Mrs. Thomas be able to “cash in” on her contacts and pursue this type of activity? We are pointed to the previous, wise words of Eugene Volokh on the subject.

Nor does this strike me as particularly pernicious or dangerous: Judges have plenty of political and ideological predispositions that they bring to the job from their earlier lives, and of course they have judicial philosophies that often make them in sync with particular political groups. That too is inevitable, and the fact that a spouse (or a child) has a high-profile political position doesn’t add much, I think, to those existing predispositions. In particular, I don’t think that the desire to remove any such mild additional influence of the judges justifies limiting the lives of the judge’s spouses and children. Virginia Thomas, like Ramona Ripston, should be free to go where her beliefs and talents take her, without having her spouse’s job cripple those ambitions.

It’s not that there are never cases where a spouse’s activities can be questioned. I still recall when then First Lady Hillary Clinton attempted to hijack the health care reform effort in the 1990s. I complained bitterly about it on the grounds that she had never been elected, appointed or hired to federal office and was not accountable to the voters for her actions. I went so far as to pen an op-ed in the local paper saying that she should run for public office if she truly wanted to be involved. (Trust me, by the end of the 2000 elections I was about ready to put a noose around my neck for that one.)

But we also can not bar someone from seeking a position which they might have obtained anyway simply based on their choice of spouse. If Ginni Thomas can make a go of it in the political arena and makes sure that there are no questionable trails of cash leading in the direction of her husband, who are we to deny her work? Given this last set of unemployment figures she’s probably luck to find a position at all.