Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 9, 2010

GINNI THOMAS' SECRET, WEALTHY BENEFACTORS.... We've talked before about the often bizarre right-wing activism of Ginni Thomas, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' wife. As she sees it, "there's a war going on against tyranny," and in her worldview, the tyrants are America's elected leaders.

There's certainly room for debate about whether Ginni Thomas, as a private citizen, should be subjected to scrutiny just because of her spouse. One could also debate whether Ginni Thomas is a bit of a nut.

But Jackie Calmes raises a related point today that I hadn't seen raised elsewhere.

...Mrs. Thomas is the founder and head of a new nonprofit group, Liberty Central, dedicated to opposing what she characterizes as the leftist "tyranny" of President Obama and Democrats in Congress and to "protecting the core founding principles" of the nation. [...]

But to some people who study judicial ethics, Mrs. Thomas's activism is raising knotty questions, in particular about her acceptance of large, unidentified contributions for Liberty Central. She began the group in late 2009 with two gifts of $500,000 and $50,000, and because it is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group, named for the applicable section of the federal tax code, she does not have to publicly disclose any contributors. Such tax-exempt groups are supposed to make sure that less than half of their activities are political.

So, the wife of a Supreme Court justice is receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from secret donors -- who may or may not have a case before the high court -- she doesn't have to disclose.

Does this seem kosher to anyone? Unknown entities are generously financing the work of a Supreme Court justice's spouse, and the public has no idea who's writing the checks, where the money's going, whether it might create a conflict of interest, etc.

Indeed, Ginni Thomas is allowed to do all of this, in large part because of a Supreme Court ruling her husband helped decide.

"It's shocking that you would have a Supreme Court justice sitting on a case that might implicate in a very fundamental way the interests of someone who might have contributed to his wife's organization," said Deborah L. Rhode, a law professor and director of the Stanford University Center on the Legal Profession.

"The fact that we can't find that out is the first problem," she said, adding, "And how can the public form a judgment about propriety if it doesn't have the basic underlying facts?"

If the situations were reversed -- if a liberal justice's spouse attacked Republican leaders with hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret donations -- I suspect there'd be quite a bit of discomfort on the right.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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"...if a liberal justice's spouse attacked Republican leaders with hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret donations -- I suspect there'd be quite a bit of discomfort on the right."

Something tells me FOX "News" might have something to say about that.
My guess is, that they'd invent "Froth-o-Vision," so that your TV could actually spew forth spittle as the "news" people "reported" this, and Glenn, Sean, and Bill-O opined, all frothing at the mouth.
You get a free raincoat, rainhat and galoshes for every "Forth-o-Vision" set you buy.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on October 9, 2010 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

It ought to be well known by now that the federal judiciary has been T-bagged by the GOP.

Posted by: Dredd on October 9, 2010 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

I hope this story has legs. It could be a chance to get Thomas off the court. God - and everyone else - knows he shouldn't be there.

Posted by: a on October 9, 2010 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Now that wasn't too hard , was it ?

Uber ehmurikhanistan .
You either help dear leader or you are crushed and find happiness providing nutrients for Fox Modified products .
Monsanto and Fox , allowing your spinning hamster wheel to humour them , so Justice Thomas needn't sully his pristine , peaceful existence regarding yours .

Posted by: FRP on October 9, 2010 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

The sheer creepiness of Clarence Thomas, a man with an inverted relationship to civil rights law and history in this nation, reaches further into surreality with a marriage to someone apparently comfortable with race baiters and bigots. Yes, the teabaggery is all a show and meant to give people like myself heartburn. But you can't help but wonder if this masquerade is, in fact, performance art for the damaged conservative soul. Really, what kind of woman, married to a black man, would undertake this voluntary association?

Posted by: walt on October 9, 2010 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

ginni thomas should be investigated, but I'd hardly be concerned about moneyed interests influencing her scumbag husband - thomas has no need to hear any cases, its a foregone conclusion he is voting in favor of the rich, the powerful, and corporate interests over average people in every case no matter what circumstances of the case.

Posted by: pluege on October 9, 2010 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Does ANYBODY think the Supremes haven't been politicized? When Roberts was appointed it was a clear message that the GOP owned the court.

Posted by: SYSPROG on October 9, 2010 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

If we went back to the our Founding Fathers' days, I don't think a white woman would be allowed to marry a black man. You can thank a liberal for that, ma'am.

Posted by: Speed on October 9, 2010 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

Here is why Mrs. Justice Thomas' political activities matter: There are two ways of thinking about politics. One is as war by other means, which is the view that Rush Limbaugh declared in his CPAC speech, where power is the only object. The other is as a means of resolving differences and of establishing justice. The latter view is what the Founding Fathers hoped to adavance with thbeir "deliberative democracy" able to "break the violence of faction."

In the conception of politics as mediator of differences -- ensuring domestic tranquility and promoting the general welfare -- rule of law is key. And so is the integrity of the courts as impartial and disinterested arbiters of that law.

What has made American politics particularly toxic in the past generation is the dominance of the right wing idea that politics is war by other means.

This has had a corrupting effect on politicians who now think they are responsibile to their parties and constituents only, instead of to the institutions they serve or the nation as a whole. This corruption has also spread to the Supreme Court itself, where a right wing majority faction embracing the idea of politics as war -- as both Bush v. Gore and Citizens United show -- have overturned decades of settled law and precedent in order to advance the interests of their right wing factions.

In a political culture where ruling elites, especially those on the Supreme Court, took their responsibilities as society's "umpire" seriously and where even-handedness and impartiality were valued, the idea of the wife of a sitting Court Justice actively soliciting corporate donations and inciting crowds to hysteria against a "tyrant" in the White House who means the country actual harm would be unthinkable. The fact that the Justice himself would preside at the wedding of a radio demagogue whose whole worldview shows nothing but sneering contempt for the idea of Rule of Law and its moderating influences is equally astonishing.

Mrs. Justice Thomas' political activities are not hers alone, but are another sign of the radicalization of America's democratic insitutions under the stress of a powerful far right political movement that has come out of the wilderness because it enjoys access to unlimited sources of corporate cash and media promotion and has set the tone for American politics for more than a generation, whether in office or out.

Posted by: Ted Frier on October 9, 2010 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty sure she got the money from George 'Satan' Soros.

Posted by: LosGatosCA on October 9, 2010 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

This has to be morally corrupting. While I'm not sure if there a constitutional way to bar the spouses of justices from engaging in politics, surely "Caesar's Wife must be about reproach..."

Posted by: beb on October 9, 2010 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

The death of "ethics" on the Supreme Court in its current incarnation began when William Rehnquist, just bumped up from Solicitor General, refused to recuse himself from a case he'd (IIRC)ARGUED before the court -- certainly helped to prepare. It was decided (surprise!) 5-4, thanks to Wild Bill's unethical vote.

In 2000 both Thomas and Scalia had clear ties to the Bush campaign (Ginni was vetting potential Bush Administration appointees at her job with the Heritage Foundation, Scalia's SON was a lawyer with the Bush campaign, working in Florida.)

Another 5-4.

The current SCOTUS is about ideological anger, and the law be damned. This is disgusting but not surprising. The "rule of law" has suffered horrifically under the Republican concept of 'ethics.'

Posted by: Hart Williams on October 9, 2010 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Caesar's wife.

Posted by: Bob M on October 9, 2010 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

Like I suggested yesterday, the Thomas seat on the Court has it's own political arm in the form of Virginia Thomas. There seems to be no recourse. By the time history judges this travesty, which is likely to be it's only review, it will be way too late for repairs. I hope I live long enough to see former President Obama elevated to the Court.

Posted by: Diane Rodriguez on October 9, 2010 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK



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