Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' wife Virginia Thomas is starting a nonprofit lobbying group to promote activism and conservative principles, the Los Angeles Times reported, setting off a debate about whether it is fair to question Virginia Thomas' influence on her husband's court decisions.
The group Liberty Central Inc. will fully launch in May, Virginia Thomas (who goes by Ginni) told the Times. It will issue score cards for members of Congress and be involved in the November midterm elections. The group will also accept donations from various sources, including corporations.
Virginia Thomas' work does not violate any ethical rules, but New York University law professor Stephen Gillers, an expert on legal ethics, told the Times that Clarence Thomas should be wary of any conflicts of interest that may arise.
"There is opportunity for mischief if a company with a case before the court, or which it wants the court to accept, makes a substantial contribution to Liberty Central in the interim," he said.
The new nonprofit can raise unlimited amounts in corporate donations and can largely avoid publicly disclosing its donors, the Times reported. Additionally, it can also freely spend corporate money to campaign for or against a candidate for office because of the Citizens United Supreme Court case in which Clarence Thomas ruled with the 5-4 majority.
Some conservative bloggers said linking Virginia Thomas' activism to Clarence Thomas' court rulings held a double standards against both women in politics as well as conservatives.
"According to a piece in the Los Angeles Times today, being married to Clarence Thomas should really prohibit a woman from being involved in politics," writes Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review. "They even include a shocking photo of Clarence and Ginni in public together at a conservative event. 'How can this happen in America?!,' it seems to ask."
Thomas herself asked the Times' reporter whether Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and his wife Marjorie Rendell, a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, come under the same scrutiny.
The newspaper points out that Marjorie Rendell has stayed away from political events, campaign rallies and debates in Pennsylvania.
Ed Morrissey at the conservative blog Hot Air also defends Virginia Thomas' activities, comparing questions of the unfair conflict of interest her role may pose to the criticism aimed at former First Lady Hillary Clinton in the 1990's.
"Counter-critics called it a form of gender discrimination, and Hillary famously responded to it by defiantly noting that 'I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas,' but decided to have her own career in law and politics," Morrissey notes.
Thomas' new endeavor is no different, he says.
"Liberty Central aims to give grassroots activists a broader understanding of the philosophy of conservatism rather than doing a lot of organizing themselves," writes Morrissey. "I'm not sure why that gives [L.A. Times reporter Kathleen] Hennessey such heartburn, but it hardly sets up any conflict of interest for Thomas ... unless Hennessey and the LAT want to argue that wives should do nothing but bake cookies and hold teas."
Michael Kieschnick, president and co-founder of wireless company CREDO Mobile, argues at Huffington Post that there is indeed a potential conflict of interest. CREDO donates a portion of its revenues to progressive groups.
"Justice Thomas has been a reliable right wing, pro-corporate vote since his first day on the court. He can hardly be described as a swing vote whose vote could be bought," Kieschnick writes. "But perhaps he could be rewarded for services rendered. Or, if service on the bench becomes tedious, he might be persuaded to extend his tenure if important cases are looming on the horizon."
Kieschnick offers a solution for the potential problem: "Liberty Central could simply voluntarily disclose all of its significant contributors in a manner much like, say, the Clinton Foundation. And Judge Thomas could simply recuse himself from any case involving a significant donor to his wife's (and thus his own) financial well being."