Clarence Thomas Failed to Report Wife’s Income
Justice Clarence Thomas failed for more than a decade to disclose his wife’s income, as required by law.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has amended 13 years’ worth of disclosure reports to include details of wife Virginia Thomas’s sources of income, documents released on Monday show.
The documents indicate that Thomas’s wife, who goes by Ginni, had worked for Hillsdale College in Michigan, the Heritage Foundation and the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, among other entities.
Like all federal judges, Thomas must file annual disclosure reports on his personal finances, but he had omitted details of his wife’s earnings in what he wrote was a “misunderstanding of the filing instructions.” He also had checked a box marking no spousal income.
Thomas did not include in his new submissions any information about Ginni’s work for Liberty Central, a tea-party-affiliated group. The group’s 2009 990 tax form did not include any payments to her and she stepped down from her official role with the group in November.
Last week, watchdog group Common Cause reported that none of the nearly $690,000 the Heritage Foundation said it had paid Ginni Thomas between 2003 and 2007 had been reported on Justice Thomas’s annual financial disclosure forms.
In a statement Monday, the group said did not believe Thomas’s explanation. “Justice Thomas sits on the highest court of the land, is called upon daily to understand and interpret the most complicated legal issues of our day and makes decisions that affect millions,” said Bob Edgar, Common Cause’s president. “It is hard to see how he could have misunderstood the simple directions of a federal disclosure form. We find his excuse is implausible.”
I’d have to concur with Edgar’s assessment. Especially since Thomas appropriately disclosed his wife’s income through 1996.
What’s odd is that there’s no obvious reason that Thomas would have needed to hide these activities, which are perfectly legitimate. Plenty of people in Washington have spouses who are activists and dealing with whatever conflicts of interest arise from that fact is now routine.
Further, Mrs. Thomas has been politically active since 1981 — six years before the couple married — and has been continuously for the past three decades. She was legislative directorfor a congressman, a lawyer-lobbyist with the Chamber of Commerce, a lawyer for the Department of Labor, a policy analyst for Dick Armey, and has served in various activist roles for Heritage since 2000. All of these roles pose potential conflicts of interest for a Supreme Court Justice. But, again, that’s not unusual in modern Washington, where spouses of the powerful routinely have high powered jobs.
UPDATE: It should also be noted that Thomas routinely recuses himself from cases where he has conflicts of interest. For example, he never hears cases involving Wachovia Securities, apparently because his son works for the company. Indeed, Thomas had recused himself in a remarkable 199 cases by 2004; I can’t easily find more recent figures. The Court only hears 75-85 cases a year.