Virginia Thomas Now Lobbying Members Of Congress, So What?
She may have stepped aside as the public face of the Tea Party group Liberty Central, but Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is now taking on a new political role that is sure to raise some eyebrows:
She started as a congressional aide in the 1980s, became a midlevel Republican operative, then briefly left politics, reemerging in 2009 as founder of a tea party group, before stepping down amid ‘continued questions about whether her actions were appropriate for the spouse of a Supreme Court justice.
Now, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, has recast herself yet again, this time as the head of a firm, Liberty Consulting, which boasts on its website using her “experience and connections” to help clients “with “governmental affairs efforts” and political donation strategies.
Thomas already has met with nearly half of the 99 GOP freshmen in the House and Senate, according to an e-mail she sent last week to congressional chiefs of staff, in which she branded herself “a self-appointed, ambassador to the freshmen class and an ambassador to the tea party movement.”
But her latest career incarnation is sparking controversy again.
Even among congressional Republicans, with whom Thomas boasts she has close ties, the reaction to the entreaties from her new firm, Liberty Consulting ranged from puzzlement to annoyance, with a senior House Republican aide who provided Thomas’s e-mail to POLITICO, blasting her for trying to “cash in” on her ties to the tea party movement.
Freshman Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) — who courted tea party activists and who was endorsed by Liberty Central, the tea party nonprofit group she headed until December — was unaware of Thomas’s new effort.
“This is the spouse of Justice Thomas?” he said, when asked by POLITICO on Tuesday about her outreach. “No, I’ve never met her. It’s not something I’ve heard about. And I hang out with a lot of freshman,” he said.
Thomas isn’t the only politically active spouse of a member of the Judiciary, but this new role does raise a few eyebrows and is, to say the least, a bit unusual even under today’s standards. Nonetheless, as Eugene Volokh pointed out back in October when this first came up, there really isn’t anything unusual or improper about this:
Justice Thomas is not the only judge to have had a spouse in a prominent political role. Ninth Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt’s wife, Ramona Ripston, has just stepped down from being head of the Southern California ACLU. Third Circuit Judge Jane Roth’s husband was a U.S. Senator; Third Circuit Judge Marjorie Rendell’s husband is a governor. So I’m not sure that there’s really a judicial norm that judge’s spouses should stay out of politics, whether partisan politics, advocacy group politics, or public interest litigation (itself a form of politics, at least when done effectively).
And while the matter hasn’t to my knowledge arisen as to the U.S. Supreme Court, that might have chiefly been a matter of small numbers and the recency of women’s substantial participation in politics, rather than of any consciously accepted norm. All but three Supreme Court Justices have been men. Until recently, women haven’t been involved either in partisan or ideological politics at nearly the level we see now. And it makes sense that of the few male Justices who have served during an era when men their age have wives who might be interested in politics, only one has had a wife who was indeed interesting in that sort of thing. At the circuit judge level, the numbers are just much greater, as are the numbers of female judges whose husbands are interested in politics.
What we have here is the inevitable result of the growing equality of women, the resulting growing tendency of lawyers to marry lawyers (and lawyers are disproportionately likely to go into politics), and the general tendency of people to marry others like them. It makes sense that many judges these days are women whose husbands are of the profession, social class, and cast of mind that makes them want to go into politics. It makes sense that many male judges have wives who are likewise likely to be interested in politics. And of course since spouses are supposed to help each other (and much such help is entirely legitimate), the success of one may yield more opportunities for the other.
Nor does this strike me as particularly pernicious or dangerous: Judges have plenty of political and ideological predispositions that they bring to the job from their earlier lives, and of course they have judicial philosophies that often make them in sync with particular political groups. That too is inevitable, and the fact that a spouse (or a child) has a high-profile political position doesn’t add much, I think, to those existing predispositions. In particular, I don’t think that the desire to remove any such mild additional influence of the judges justifies limiting the lives of the judge’s spouses and children. Virginia Thomas, like Ramona Ripston, should be free to go where her beliefs and talents take her, without having her spouse’s job cripple those ambitions.
The usual suspects on the left will jump on this in due time, I’m sure, but this really strikes me as much ado about nothing.