(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—Everyone would like to believe that even if your boss’ wife doesn’t like you that it won’t affect your performance evaluation. We also want to believe that if our best friend’s husband owns a struggling Ford dealership that she won’t be mad when we drive up in a new Hyundai. But deep down, we all know this is not the case. The bonds between husbands and wives will always affect how these men and women behave in their public lives. That is why I’m perfectly comfortable with suggesting that Clarence Thomas remove himself from several Supreme Court cases in the coming term.
Last week it was announced that Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, Clarence’s wife, was starting her own official offshoot of the Tea Party Movement called “Liberty Central Inc.” The conservative group will help get the country back on track, and away from the brink of tyranny, by raising a lot of money from conservative activists and sharing information on how the Obama administration is out of control. Virginia Thomas has a history of conservative activism for many years so this is not a radical change for her. Of course none of that matters, since her creation of such a public group creates a huge conflict of interest for her husband, Supreme Court Justice Thomas.
During the last State of the Union address, President Obama publicly chastised the Supreme Court for their ruling in the “Citizens United” case. In “Citizens United” the court ruled that private businesses and organizations can now spend unlimited amounts of money during political campaigns. And now Justice Thomas’ wife is starting an organization that will be able to raise unlimited funds to promote their cause without having to reveal any of the donors or the size of their contributions. Clarence Thomas is a conservative, and he ruled on this case prior to his wife’s new political adventure. However, there is no doubt that Virginia Thomas’ running an organization with a “Tea Party” agenda associates him with policies and potential rulings that bring his objectivity into question. When his wife’s organization is dependent on the ability to raise and spend funds without limitation do you think that Thomas will rule objectively when Citizens United is eventually challenged? Or any other case dealing with their political agenda? We would like to think so, but in recent years it has been clear that conservatives on the court have never had a huge problem with skirting the spirit of conflict of interest.
During the Bush vs. Gore recount case in 2000, Justice Scalia conveniently forgot to mention that TWO of his sons were working for law firms that represented the Bush administration. He claimed that since they weren’t directly involved in Bush vs. Gore he felt no need to share that information. Nice cover, but that didn’t pass the smell test with many appeals judges at the time who felt Scalia was not being forthcoming with the public or the court. During that same case Clarence Thomas’ wife, Virginia, was working for the Pro-Bush conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, and was soliciting resumes from Republican congressional staffers for “transition jobs” with the new administration. Somehow this too was deemed okay and Thomas chose not to remove himself from the case. It seems like Supreme Court justices don’t believe they need to recuse themselves from a case unless they carpooled to the court that morning with one of the defendants.
The Supreme Court of the United States is our final ruling on any issue of great moral, financial or political importance in this country. Any suggestion, whether through sons, daughters or wives, that the justices can be influenced by outside sources should be removed so as to at least maintain the image that the court is impartial. Yes this may put a slight burden on the spouses of justices but that’s a small public price to pay for the private influence they all exhibit on American’s lives. Plenty of men and women married to elected officials, members of the military and other high federal offices have voluntarily limited their public actions out of respect for their spouse’s office. If Virginia Thomas is really that desperate to take a stand on an issue, she should take a hint from Michelle Obama. I am sure that the most important issue to Michelle is not childhood obesity, but she’s become a champion of an issue that in no way can negatively impact her husband’s professional duties. What’s so controversial about wanting to help fat kids?
Virginia Thomas, you should be taking notes.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)