Donald Trump’s fourth link to the Supreme Court: Ginni Thomas
Donald Trump with Justice Clarence Thomas, his supporter on the Supreme Court. | Facebook

WASHINGTON—During his four years in the Oval Office, Donald Trump catered to his right-wing supporters and used the Federalist Society, a right-wing judicial advocacy group, to name three justices to the U.S. Supreme Court—Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett. They cemented the rightist majority on the nation’s highest bench.

What’s lesser-known is Trump’s fourth link to the court: Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a prominent right-wing activist who just happens to be the spouse of the court’s longest-serving justice, Clarence Thomas.

And that’s a problem which should set off a debate in D.C. over judicial ethics, but hasn’t, yet.

Supreme Court “disclosure rules are not strong enough to identify every potential conflict of interest that might exist for a justice,” the Constitutional Accountability Center says. “Taken together, these problems make the Supreme Court the least accountable institution within our three branches of government, detracting from its image as a fair and neutral arbiter.

“Congress should examine ways to bring clarity and transparency to the ethical standards governing Supreme Court justices and build the confidence of the American people in the ethical rigor of the High Court,” the center declares.

Ginni Thomas’s long career as a conservative activist and her more-recent higher profile in that role illustrates the problem. She’s made a name for herself, independent of her spouse, on the radical right.

Thomas is a former staffer for the conservative Heritage Foundation, and for former Reps. Hal Daub, R-Neb., and Dick Armey, R-Texas, at one-time the ultra-right House Majority Whip. She also worked for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

She now sits on the board of several right-wing groups, including one officially “non-profit” one she founded in 2009, Liberty Central, which Wikipedia describes as “an offshoot of the Tea Party movement.”

All that understates her clout during the GOP Trump regime. A recent long profile of the couple in the New York Times Magazine noted Ginni Thomas regularly used her connections to gain right-wingers one-on-one meetings with Trump. Some of the right-wingers she brought in, the Times reported, were so off-the-wall that his top aides cringed, and often tried to usher them out as quickly as possible.

But the real problem in the Trump-Thomas-Thomas ties is a conflict of interest, real or perceived. That’s where Trump’s “Stop the steal!” crusade and his schemes to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democratic nominee Joe Biden, followed by the Jan. 6, 2021, Trumpite invasion and insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, come into the picture.

Ginni Thomas promoted the pre-invasion rally in D.C. on her Facebook page and then attended it. There, Trump told his militants to march on the Capitol, promising to lead them. Instead, Trump went back into the White House and watched the invasion on TV. Ginni Thomas left after Trump talked and did not march with the insurrectionists.

And 12 days after the insurrection, Ginni Thomas sent a private e-mail to a listserv maintained by Clarence Thomas’s former Supreme Court clerks, apologizing for and disavowing her prior promotion of what turned into the invasion, the conservative Washington Free Beacon reported.

The catch is that when the first case involving the House Select Committee’s demands for documents detailing preparations and participation in both January 6 and planning by Trump, his aides and his “War Room” to overturn the results reached the Supreme Court, the justices backed the committee, 8-1.

Clarence Thomas was the “1.” He did not say, or write, why he backed Trump.

Both Thomases deny Ginni Thomas’s political advocacy affects Clarence Thomas’s decisions, a position skeptics find hard to believe, given their joint appearances at events sponsored by the Federalist Society and other right-wing groups—not to mention the right-wingers Ginni Thomas led into the Executive Mansion during Trump’s term.

But the Times noted Ginni Thomas still advocates social issues and political causes headed for the court, especially from one of her other posts, the board of the Center for National Policy’s Action wing, which—unlike the non-profit center itself—is politically involved.

Those issues include state election law changes and Mississippi’s direct head-on assault against women’s right to choice. Clarence Thomas was also one of three dissenters in a 6-3 High Court vote rejecting a right-wing challenge to Pennsylvania’s election laws and electoral vote count. Biden carried the state, one where Trump alleged vote fraud occurred, in majority-minority Philadelphia.

Not among the skeptics: The Supreme Court commission Biden appointed after taking office, to review the composition, terms, and procedures of the court after Trump packed it with his three right-wingers.

Its report discussed, in detail, conflicts of interest among the justices themselves, and whether, when, and why they should “recuse”—sit out—certain cases to avoid even the perception of conflicts.

Lower court justices must obey a code of conduct that lays down specific guidelines, usually involving stockholdings, for recusal. But that code doesn’t apply to the nine Supreme Court justices. And it says nothing about spouses and family members, either.

The commission suggested the justices fix that perception problem, by adopting the code of conduct, or writing their own to take into account the unique problem they face when a justice “recuses”—opts out—of a case: There’s no “replacement” justice available.

But the panel confined itself to citing financial conflicts of interest, for both the justices and their families. “The commission notes a building consensus among observers that no justices or their spouses and dependent children should own or continue to own individual publicly traded securities,” it notes.

It did, however, caution against perceptions of judges’ political conflicts of interest—a caution that would apply to Clarence Thomas, not to Ginni Thomas.

“The justices themselves might be well positioned to consider the tensions and issues that can arise from their public and private activities, and to set standards for themselves… Justices must be mindful of appearances if they choose to attend meetings of organizations that have a political or other” element “that could cause the justices’ attendance to become controversial or cast doubt on their neutrality.”

Left unresolved, by the Biden commission or anyone else: The Ginni Thomas-Clarence Thomas-Trump conflict-of-interest problem.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

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