Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mrs. SCOTUS throws a tea party

This is not only bizarre, but it's hard to believe it's legal. The conflict is obvious. She calls herself "an ordinary citizen from Omaha" but Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has "launched a tea-party-linked group that could test the traditional notions of political impartiality for the court."
In January, Virginia Thomas created Liberty Central Inc., a nonprofit lobbying group whose website will organize activism around a set of conservative "core principles," she said.

The group plans to issue score cards for Congress members and be involved in the November election, although Thomas would not specify how. She said it would accept donations from various sources -- including corporations -- as allowed under campaign finance rules recently loosened by the Supreme Court.

Coincidentally, that "Citizens United" decision was decided by her husband who was "part of the 5-4 majority in that case." Not that this is the first time a decision by her husband's court intersected with her work life.
In 2000, while at the Heritage Foundation, she was recruiting staff for a possible George W. Bush administration as her husband was hearing the case that would decide the election. When journalists reported her work, Thomas said she saw no conflict of interest and that she rarely discussed court matters with her husband.
The woman is a kook who loves Limbaugh, is "intrigued by Beck" and now thanks to Citizens United her new little quasi-PAC can spend unlimited money on influencing elections and not even have to disclose their donors. This really should not be legal. I mean, you can't even enter a contest to win a tshirt if you're related to someone who works for whoever is giving away prizes, so how can this not be a conflict. Don't get it.

[More posts daily at The Detroit News]

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Blogger Brian said...

"Hard to believe it's legal"?

It would be interesting to see you attempt to identify what law or cannon of judicial conduct it could possibly violate.

It's a free country. Virginia Thomas has the right of free speech, and the right to petition the government, just like you or me. And just like Anthony Lewis, who exercised his right to free speech as editorialist for the New York Times, while his wife, Margaret H. Marshall, served as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. And just like Ramona Ripston, who exercises her right to petition the government as head of the ACLU of Southern California, while her husband, Judge Stephan Reinhardt, serves on the 9th Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals.

3:35:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Given that most lower court judges are lawyers before they're on the bench, it's nearly impossible to remove all inherent conflicts from the system. Further, I don't know if these two you referenced recused themselves from cases that present a conflict. Thomas clearly didn't in 2000 and the timing on the Citzens decision and the wife's creation of a new advocacy org is troubling. Thomas should have recused on that one too.

In any event, lower court decisions can be overturned. SCOTUS is the last stop to virtually permanent precedent. Don't think it's untoward to hold their spouses to a stricter standard.

3:56:00 PM  
Blogger mahakal said...

You can yell about it all you want but as you know SCOTUS is a lifetime appointment excepting bad behavior, and I don't think there's any recourse.

6:55:00 PM  
Blogger ed waldo (Hart Williams) said...

"It's a free country."

Not since Scalia and Thomas openly flouted decorum (only because there is no oversight on SCOTUS -- no lower court judge could have pulled what they did) when their son and wife (respectively) were already working for and lining up appointees to a prospective Bush Administration WHILE Bush v. Gore was being decided.

Which is WHY we demand that our judges be extraordinarily sensitive to conflicts of interest, both actual and perceived.

And, in case you hadn't noticed, Brian, it really isn't a "free" country anymore.

SINCE THAT DECISION: Suspension of habeas corpus, extraordinary rendition, secret searches, wholesale wiretapping, etc. etc. etc.

All, a direct result of that refusal of recusal. (Any municipal justice of the peace would be held to a higher standard than SCOTUS held themselves to.)

Which is WHY we have these rules of decorum that seem to apply, crocodile tears and all, when Roberts whines that he was criticized, but don't apply when the very fabric of the Constitution is at stake.

IOKYAR may work in your normal Pee Wee Herman arguments, but it does not apply to justice or judges.

"I know you are, but what am I?"

6:55:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...


Mine was not a "I know you are but what am I" argument, because I truly think it's legally and ethically alright for a 9th Circuit judge to have a wife prominent in the ALCU, or a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justice to have a husband editorializing in the NY Times. My argument was that these alleged conflicts are similar to the one of Justice Thomas and his wife, therefor there's not a problem here too. With the exception of some ALCU litigation, I fail to see any particular cases arising from any of these 3 situations that would require judicial recusal. (And I'm sure Judge Reinhardt gets council from judicial authorities as to which ALCU cases to stay out of.)

I must admit, I haven't heard of Thomas's wife's and Scalia's son's involvement in the prospective Bush administration in 2000. This seems to be a much closer call, given the rather concrete financial interests at stake.

7:19:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Mahakal, who's shouting? Just saying it's troubling and would warrant a review of some sort.

Ed and Brian, looks like we mostly agree.

7:25:00 PM  
Blogger ed waldo (Hart Williams) said...

Brian. There is only one problem with your argument and, had you read carefully, you'd have already seen it.

SCOTUS members are above judicial review. In every case you cite, there are checks and balances.

In fact, if you would check out Mrs. Thomas' CV, you wouldn't be so quick to pooh pooh the conflict of interest involved. I have written on this in detail elsewhere, and you are welcome to read it.

7:45:00 AM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

An interesting read. Whether or not there is impropriety, it reeks of the "who cares what you think?" attitude of the GOP over the last half century. The real problem is that a mediocre judge who puts pubic hair on Coke cans and thinks it's sexy found his way onto the court to act as a mouthpiece for the Republican Mafia. He shouldn't be there in the first place.

11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

He really is a disaster on the bench.

2:44:00 PM  

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