Justice Thomas’ Ginni Problem

A husband doesn’t control his wife. A man doesn’t control a woman. She is a free, independent human being, capable of, and entitled to, her own ideas, expressions and actions. But when your husband happens to be a Supreme Court justice, particularly one whose views tend toward outlier, what the hell were you thinking?

The disclosure that Virginia Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, had sent a barrage of text messages to the Trump White House urging efforts to overturn the 2020 election brought into sharp focus the conflict of interest her political activism has created — and the lack of a clear-cut remedy.

It is one thing, experts in legal ethics said on Friday, for the spouse of a Supreme Court justice to express political views, even ones shot through with wild conspiracy theories. That may not by itself require the justice’s recusal from cases touching on those views.

But the text messages from Ms. Thomas, a longtime conservative activist who goes by Ginni, revealed something quite different and deeply troubling, experts said.

I’ll say what Adam Liptak is too polite to say. Ginni Thomas’ texts were batshit crazy. Which would be bad enough in itself, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that this woman who would send these texts, believe such insanity, would do so knowing that it would splash all over her “best friend” and husband, Clarence.

Now recall that in January, the Supreme Court rejected Mr. Trump’s request to block the release of White House records relating to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Mr. Meadows had submitted a brief in the case supporting Mr. Trump. The court’s ruling came as an unsigned order, with only one noted dissent: from Justice Thomas.

Perhaps Justice Thomas was not aware of his wife’s text-message campaign to Mr. Meadows at the time. But it sure makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

And that’s precisely the problem: We shouldn’t have to wonder. The Supreme Court is the most powerful judicial body in the country, and yet, as Alexander Hamilton reminded us, it has neither the sword nor the purse as a means to enforce its rulings. It depends instead on the American people’s acceptance of its legitimacy, which is why the justices must make every possible effort to appear fair, unbiased and beyond reproach.

Jesse Wegman is right on both counts, that it makes you wonder and we shouldn’t have to wonder.

The Supreme Court is not subject to rules of recusal that apply to other federal judges, and for good reason. First, that justices should be reliable enough to know for themselves when recusal is appropriate. Second, separation of powers dictates that no other branch should be in a position to control the Court’s decisions, or who gets to make them, short of impeachment. Third, if there were applicable rules, there would be no place to go to challenge them, as this is the Supreme Court.

But the judicial branch is, as Hamilton said, the least dangerous branch, as its only weapon is integrity. What this means is that it’s not merely actual conflicts of interest, but the appearance of impropriety, that matters. As Jesse says, “we shouldn’t have to wonder.”

This dilemma arises because Ginni Thomas is doing what she, as an American, is entitled to do, be as insanely partisan as she wants to be. For the most part, spouses of people in positions of extreme power, and extreme public scrutiny, tend to be a bit more circumspect in their actions for the sake of not creating problems for their spouse.

It’s not because there is a rule prohibiting them from spewing nonsense or believing in space aliens, but that wonderful combination of sound discretion and not damaging your best friend’s integrity. Ginni Thomas has chosen instead to be as crazy as she wants to be. That’s her right. And that’s covered her husband in controversy, far more so than he does to himself.

It’s unimaginable that Justice Thomas will resign, but Jesse calls on him to recuse himself from cases in which his wife has chosen to be personally embroiled. It’s not as if Justice Thomas isn’t sufficiently controversial on his own, but being covered with his wife’s, his “best friend’s,” dirt takes it way over the top. His fans and supporters will fight this with every disingenuous argument they can muster, but don’t blame Democrats, liberals or progressives for this one. They didn’t do this to Justice Thomas. Ginni did. With “best friends” like this, he doesn’t need enemies.

23 thoughts on “Justice Thomas’ Ginni Problem

  1. jfjoyner3

    I’m not buying the NYT’s opinion writers’ views. I live far below the Thomas’ scale of importance but they are human like me.

    Soon after I married (20 years ago) my decade-younger wife, I felt unwisely told her that she obviously had developed her political viewpoint from Saturday Night Live. She responded by telling me that I developed my sense of humor from CNN (the old CNN, before they became the Clown News Network). Fast forward to last year, I heard her trying to convince our teenage daughter that there was a conspiracy to steal the election from DJT. I despised Biden then, I hate him now, but I felt compelled to tell both of them (to my superficially wokist daughter’s relief) that the even if there was a conspiracy the election had not been stolen by uploading phony electronic votes at 3am and, in fact, a senile old fool was actually elected president by a convincing majority. She did not respond and now we happily watch her favorite conspiracy “news” programs (she stopped watching SNL many years ago) together while she quietly twits her twit-friends about the stolen election.

    So, why should it matter that Ginni twits out that nonsense? On the other hand, I would be seriously disturbed to learn that Clarance was secretly watching the latest season of, “Live from New York …”

    1. SHG Post author

      You don’t buy because a NYT opinion writer says so. You buy because, in this instance, he’s correct. As for your marital and familial issues, the comparison is less than compelling given that you don’t sit on the Supreme Court.

      1. Patrick Henry, the 2nd

        Nah, he’s not correct at all. We don’t blame people for other people’s actions in the US. It matters not what Ginni said, and it matters even less that she is the wife of a Supreme Court justice. Thomas is an independent thinking human, even despite being married to his wife. What she thinks about it matters not to what he thinks about it.

        Besides, nobody outside the beltway actually cares about the four hour mostly peaceful riot, much less what the wife of a Supreme Court justice thought about it.

    2. Steven G

      Ginny wasn’t just twitting out that nonsense, she had the ear of people at the white house.

  2. Dissent

    I think most of us can agree that Ginni Thomas is free to issue as many bat-shit crazy tweets and messages as she wants. But she’s getting the brunt of the blame for her husband’s decision, and that strikes me as wrong — or dare I say, sexist?

    Should hubby have recused himself because his wife got involved? Yes, because any appearance of impropriety is damaging and to be avoided. Even if he genuinely shares the same bat-shit crazy views and married her because he deeply admires her bat-shit crazy views, he should have recused himself (at least in the World According to Dissent). But that’s *his* decision, and she should not be blamed for what he decided to do.

    But will any of his colleagues say anything or get together and then advise him to resign or at least recuse himself in any cases where there might be the appearance of impropriety or undue influence? I hope they do, but I am not holding my breath.

    1. SHG Post author

      Nah. When one spouse holds a position of exceptional prominence, the other spouse’s willingness to not create controversy and outrage has nothing to do with sex. If Ginni was the justice, then the expectation would be that Clarence not dump shit on her head.

      1. Dissent

        That sounds reasonable. But when George Conway tweeted publicly for Lincoln Project and criticized Kellyanne’s boss and policies, did everyone criticize him for dumping shit on her head? What was the expectation there? Or is that not a fair comparison?

  3. B. McLeod

    The “best friend” angle is interesting. This was something Thomas said about his wife, but the talking heads at CBS were using it yesterday to interpret every reference she made to conversations with her best friend to mean conversations with Thomas. The logic was pretty shaky, and it was generally a sliming built on innuendo. They did manage to acknowledge for one brief, shining moment that the texts showed no support for the attack on the Capitol.

    Morons known as “the Women’s March” and a host of leftist pundits are calling for an impeachment, based, apparently, on the pre-19th century doctrine of coverture. It is absurd, and as you have noted, the real issue is whether Thomas should recuse from a range of issues (complicated by the Supreme Court lacking recusal requirements).

  4. Paleo

    Like the writer asked, did Thomas know about his wife’s texts at the time he didn’t recuse? We don’t know. My wife constantly texts stuff to friends and puts stuff on social media that I never see. Is it nuts to think he probably didn’t know about them? Not to me. Seems likely that he didn’t.

    But he sure as hell knows about them now, so going forward he should recuse. I’ll bet he does, with the encouragement of his coworkers.

    Is Ginni is batshit crazy? Seems that way, but you recognize that Batshit Crazy is the odds on favorite to be the Republican nominee in 2024, right? And if Pathetically Incompetent Joe doesn’t run again the Democrats might nominate a progressive, meaning our selection could come down to Batshit Crazy vs Batshit Crazy. Could it be that Ginni is actually mainstream now and people like you and I are the outliers?

  5. Hunting Guy

    I’m keeping an open mind on her “batshit crazy”. 20 years from now who knows what may come out.

    After all, the germ and heliocentric theories were considered wild and unbelievable in their time. So was space flight (per the NYT) and going faster than 60 mph.

    1. SHG Post author

      Much as the batshit crazy crowd appreciates your open-mindedness, what does that have to do with recusal?

    2. Miles

      In the grand scheme of possibilities, it’s more likely Men in Black was a documentary than Ginni isn’t batshit crazy. Let it go, HG. Let it go.

  6. Ian C>

    IIRC, during Bush Jr. term there was a case being heard by SCOTUS where “Uncle Thomas” should have recused himself since Ginni had some sort of relationship with one of the parties involved. He didn’t. And, IIRC (can’t trust my memory these days), outcome favored Ginnis preference.

    1. SHG Post author

      Between your memory issues and vagueness, does this contribute any actual useful or relevant information?

      1. Miles

        To be fair, it wouldn’t have been relevant even if he provided actual and accurate substance.

        1. Ian C>

          My intended point being that Thomas would not recuse himself regardless of any real or perceived conflict of interest.

  7. El_Suerte

    I feel sorry for KBJ’s husband whose garbage and social media is going to be ineptly molested by Project Veritas types.

    1. SHG Post author

      With a notable exception, spouses of Supreme Court justices have not been subject to harassment. Hopefully, that norm will not be changed.

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