"I did not give up my First Amendment rights when my husband became a justice of the Supreme Court."


That's Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, speaking to National Public Radio about the widespread criticism she's received for her involvement in the conservative activist website LibertyCentral.org. Sunday's LA Times, for instance, worried that the "tea party-linked group…could test the traditional notions of political impartiality for the court":

The move by Virginia Thomas, 52, into the front lines of politics stands in marked contrast to the rarefied culture of the nation's highest court, which normally prizes the appearance of nonpartisanship and a distance from the fisticuffs of the politics of the day….

"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.

On the other hand, notes UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, judges with politically active spouses aren't entirely unheard of:

Of course, Justice Thomas is not the only judge to have had a spouse in a prominent political role. Ninth Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt's wife, Ramona Ripston, has just stepped down from being head of the Southern California ACLU. Third Circuit Judge Jane Roth's husband was a U.S. Senator; Third Circuit Judge Marjorie Rendell's husband is a governor. So I'm not sure that there's really a judicial norm that judge's spouses should stay out of politics, whether partisan politics, advocacy group politics, or public interest litigation (itself a form of politics, at least when done effectively).

NEXT: Inflation: The Unspeakable Crisis

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “I did not give up my First Amendment rights when my husband became a justice of the Supreme Court.”


  2. “http://www.freedomsphoenix.com/Uploads/Graphics/001-0323093914-socialism.jpg”


  3. WTF???

  4. ‘the traditional notions of political impartiality for the court’ is that federal judges make policy from the bench, so it’s understandable that judges and their spouses advocating policy as citizens seems weird and inappropriate.

    If a spouse wants to influence public policy, why not just lobby the Justice to adopt the spouse’s views? That’s what Harry Blackmun’s wife did in the case of *Roe v. Wade,* according to Woodward and Armstrong’s book *The Brethren.* (Not that I’m saying Woodward is always right, but I’d certainly like to hear NPR either denounce Bob Woodward as a liar or denounce Mrs. Blackmun for her inappropriate involvement in public issues).

    1. Did NPR denounce anyone here? I heard the story this morning on NPR and I did not hear any denunciation.

      1. Sorry – replace NPR with LA Times.

          1. Well, there are all those cases of husbands and wives shaping their spouses political opinions; James Carville and Mary Matilan would be an obvious high-profile example.

  5. Like there’s any bearing between the political views of your spouse and your own…

    Good call, Mad Max. I had forgotten that factoid from The Brethren.

  6. What a load of crap. The spouse may wield some influence, but so do a lot of other people. Unless we’re going to use clones raised in boxes and exposed to no one but other clone justices, I’m not sure this issue is worth discussin.

    By the way, the reverse is true, too. Simply being married to someone in high office doesn’t make you someone who has held high office–with the exception of Mrs. Wilson, anyway.

    1. Or Lurleen Wallace.

      1. Qualifications aside, she did run for the office, right?

        1. Yep. On the platform of letting her husband make all the decisions.

    2. Or Hillary Clinton

      1. She was who I was thinking of when I mentioned the reverse not being the case. She’s qualified for SoS for exactly what?

        1. Well, where do you draw the line on that? She was running for president after all, and at the time she was considered the more qualified candidate for her party.

          1. Which says more about the candidates than about her. Obama and Edwards, for instance, are also unqualified to be SoS.

  7. Ginni has a right to express her opinions, however warped and confused they may be.

    1. Me, too!

      Oh, wait…

  8. “Of course, Justice Thomas is not the only judge to have had a spouse in a prominent political role.”

    Sorry, Gene, but “Justice” Thomas is not a judge. He’s a Justice. Actually, past justices themselves have often been quite political (and quite inappropriately so). It looks tacky because it is.

    1. Oh, bull. She should have to behave a certain way because her husband does something for a living? Remember, there is an ethical path for dealing with any conflicts–recusal. The issue is his, not hers.

    2. U.S. Constitution, Art. III, Section I: ‘The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The *Judges,* both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good Behaviour . . .’ [emphasis added]

    3. Great. That’s all we need: another uppity white woman.

    4. I think that SC Justices are a subset of judges. Amazingly, more than one label can apply to a single object at once.

  9. Where do you get “Scot” out of “Lucas A.”? Clearly some tomfoolery on the part of this historian and professor. Totally unreliable.

  10. If its appropriate for a Circuit Court judge’s spouse, its appropriate for a Justice’s spouse.

    They hear the exact same cases, you know.

    1. It is not inappropriate for either spouse. The LA Times just bothers to notice when it is Thomas because they hate Thomas and wanted to run a hit piece on him.

    2. Again, the issue is for Justice Thomas, not his wife. There’s nothing unethical or inappropriate about her being involved in politics. On the other hand, if her involvement directly relates to a party before the Court, Thomas will likely need to recuse himself.

      1. As if Scalia’s son serving in Iraq didn’t factor into his terror related rulings.

        I saw a video clip of him speaking at a school and he mentioned it when he was asked about a ruling.

        1. So what if they did? If Ginsburg had a daughter who had once had an abortion, would that mean she couldn’t rule on abortion cases? That is just stupid. Justices experiences and lives affect their opinions on cases.

          1. Remember Justice Sotomayor (I loath typing that) and her “Wise Latina” comment.

          2. “Wise Latina”

          3. Obviously, the answer here is to pop the 9 justices back into stasis once the current session is over, and thaw them out again in October. No danger of contamination then.

            1. This like how we’ve gotten with juries. Originally, they were expected to know the parties and maybe even the matter in dispute. Now, they’re supposed to be totally unconnected and as ignorant as possible.

          4. I’m sure lots of experiences affect there beliefs, just as it does with everyone else. To think that it will not, is foolish.

            But there is a fine line where one may lose objectivity and replace it with emotion. But it’s up to the Justices themselves to maintain there objectivity if they can’t they should step back.

            But one can’t simply assume that Judges do lose their objectivity. But in Scalia’s case he seem to admit it.

        2. I’m sure it did. The rule is usually whether the possible conflict will interfere with your impartiality or create an undue appearance of doing so. Having a family member involved in politics doesn’t rise to that level, as a general matter.

    3. What a misunderstanding of the judical system. They may hear the same cases, but their rulings carry different weight.

  11. Is the impartiality of a Justice more at risk if their spouse advocates a political position in a public manner as opposed to just advocating to their betrothed behind closed doors?

    1. Yes, this puts his vote in limbo. Will he agree to show that his wife was demonstrating his views all along. Or did he disagree just to prove he is a self thinker? Either way we could never know, and it brings incertainity to his post as a Justice.

  12. The first analogy that came to mind for me is patients that have concerns with physicians that have a spouse working in the office, usually as nurse or office manager (or both), specifically in the area of doctor/patient confidentiality.

    Any person that has access to patient info is bound by HIPAA not discuss said info with anyone that does not have a need to know and not discussed outside the working environment, i.e. cafeteria, home, etc.

    What the patient should realize is a) the spouse is a professional and will discuss some aspects of the information with the physician and b) the physician’s clinical judgment about DX and TX is independently arrived (unless the spouse is also a physician/PA/Advanced Practice RN and specifically inquired).

    As long as what she does is independent of his formulation of his judicial opinions and vice versa, I really don’t see any conflict here.

    1. But how would we ever know. I hope he has the widsom, not to vote on her issues.

  13. They’d praise her if she was involved with the ACLU.

  14. More on the LATimes Hit Piece on Ginni Thomas

    If you want to know everything you need to know about the lefty legacy media, compare the Times’s treatment of Mrs. Thomas to the hagiography the newspaper published just a few weeks ago on the occasion of Ramona Ripston’s announcement that she would soon retire from her position as executive director of the ACLU of Southern California.

    When finally we reach the end of the puff piece, readers are informed that Ms. Ripston has for the last 20 years been married to Judge Stephen Reinhardt, perhaps the most leftist jurist on the nation’s most leftist federal court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

    Do we get any LATimes handwringing about whether Ms. Ripston’s crusades for “social justice” undermine Judge Reinhardt’s adjudicating and thus taint the Ninth Circuit generally?

    Surely you jest. We learn it’s no big deal: He just recuses himself whenever the ACLU is involved in a case. In fact, far from grave concern, the newspaper sees the conflict as occasion for a good laugh:

  15. certainly the feminists will be rushing to her defense…

  16. I better not hear Michelle Obama say a damn thing about healthcare.

    1. MO’s Husband will not be determining if the law is constitutional, and beside you already she supports, it was a part of their platform…..What a DUMBASS statement. I wonder if your healthcare is as secure as you may think.

  17. Illinois has a State Supreme Court Justice, Burke, married to a Chicago Alderman and Barack Obama didn’t seem to have a problem with. 31 alderman have been convicted of crimes since the 70s. How many TEA Party leaders have been convicted? Powerful alderman is ok, but citizen activist is not?

    Lunatic left.

    1. None of these examples compare to the position of Supreme Court Justice….this is a sacred position.

  18. Volokh swings a big stick.

  19. She should be baking cookies, maybe?

    1. Wonder how many sexist/racist comments the left is spewing on the HuffPo and other such kind’n’gentle politically-correct soap boxes…

      1. It sound like you are bearing a secret shame.

    2. She doesn’t have to bake cookies, but maybe supporting and respecting her spouse. I really feel so for him. She has got to be hard to live with. She is very SELFISH.

  20. More fun for this story is watching liberals try to speak negatively about his biracial relationship while pretending their position is different from garden variety racism (“oh, what a self-hating black man to be married to a white woman!” — just reverse ‘black man’ and ‘white woman’ and a portal will open to suck you back to the Jim Crow era South)

    1. Hey, she’s down with the swirl.

      But, yeah, the Newshounds and other schmucks are gonna have a field day with this. And here we thought America was post-racial after His Nibs got crowned…

  21. I think we’re past the days when what a woman can and can’t do depends on her husband’s profession.

    1. But hopefully, not past respect for our spouses. She appears to be a self centered, and disrespectful to a person she promised to honor,and respect. This has got to be a sad household. How stupid can Clarence Thomas must feel.

  22. Well, we know who wears the pants in the Thomas’ house. Mrs. VT needs to stay off the “sauce” so that she won’t make dumba## phone calls to her husband’s harassment victums.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.