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Opinion Ginni Thomas thinks she’s important. She’s not.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, at the White House on Sept. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
5 min

Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has recently drawn media fire as only a conservative activist can.

And she deserves it.

I’ve known Ginni Thomas since she worked at the Heritage Foundation and attended a writing seminar I was teaching there about 20 years ago. At the time, she was a sweet, eager-to-learn 40-something who happened to be married to a man who sat on the land’s highest court. Not many Americans knew her name, though she sat next to her husband during his grueling 1991 confirmation hearings — led then by an imperious Delaware senator named Joe Biden.

I found her quite likable. Not so much Biden, in those days.

But something has happened to the Ginni Thomas whom I knew then. Perhaps her roots in Omaha, where she was raised by uber-conservative, Republican parents, simply grew out. Today, she’s entrenched with various hard-right conservative groups that manifest some of the worst instincts of today’s Republican Party.

She’s anti-feminist, anti-affirmative action, and, perhaps worst of all to her critics, pro-Donald Trump. (A Trump aide reportedly called her the “wrecking ball” because of her frequent lobbying efforts, which, needless to say, were tolerated in the White House for one reason only — her husband.)

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A list of Ginni Thomas’s cross-pollinating associations, all legal, would fill this column. Suffice to say, she has not been idle in politics, advocating for issues that, importantly, could come before the court on which her husband serves. These include gun rights, affirmative action and abortion.

Some court watchers have called on Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from cases in which his wife has been active. This might seem sensible, at least for appearance’s sake. Already, the high court is viewed unfavorably by 44 percent of Americans, according to the Pew Research Center. But is it necessary as a matter of judicial ethics?

The operating presumption of some is that married folk surely discuss their work at home and, therefore, Clarence Thomas couldn’t possibly be neutral on issues in which his wife had taken an interest. Ginni Thomas not only runs her own political consulting firm, but she also contracts with various individuals and groups who have at times submitted amicus briefs to the court in support of conservative arguments. This arrangement seems very close to the line.

More recently came Ginni Thomas’s admission that she attended the Jan. 6, 2021, pre-insurrection “Stop the Steal” protest on the Ellipse. This isn’t itself a problem — except for the fact that the demonstrators hoped to interfere with congressional certification of Biden’s election.

It’s worth noting that Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenter from the decision that forced Trump to comply with the House select committee’s inquiry into the Jan. 6 coup attempt. More than 800 people have been arrested or charged in connection to events that day. Ginni Thomas co-signed a petition to remove Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) from the Republican conference that criticized the House inquiry as a politically motivated witch hunt, which seems dangerously close to pot-and-kettle territory.

Still, the pending case dealing with the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi state law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy is what is most putting Ginni Thomas’s activism front and center. By making Ginni Thomas an issue, pro-choice advocates surely hope to undermine the integrity of her husband as the case is being decided. The audience for all this attention to Ginni Thomas is likely John G. Roberts Jr., the chief justice who speaks often about the need to protect the court from politics.

Where Clarence Thomas personally stands on abortion is no mystery. The senior justice is a devout Catholic. But when America: The Jesuit Review asked him how he handles his personal views when they conflict with the law, he said: “You do your job and you go cry alone.” Indeed, cases are decided on the facts of a particular case and applicable law, which is the very reason many legal scholars say that Roe v. Wade was a bad decision. There was no constitutional basis for the holding. On Dobbs, we shall see.

So, why do I say Ginni Thomas deserves the media fire?

Because she has asked for it — time and again — by being outrageous, by nurturing conspiracies, by being Stephen K. Bannon’s acolyte and encouraging the MAGA fringe. And by saying things such as America is at war against the “deep state” and the “fascist left,” which includes “transsexual fascists.” That helps no one.

But her biggest mistake is that she thinks she’s important. She is not. Her husband is. By her words and actions, she has brought doubt to her husband’s judicial integrity. She has diminished his hard-won gravitas.

I’m sorry to have to say these things. Ginni Thomas can still be a sweet and kind person. But she never learned what wiser spouses of important men and women have known: It isn’t about you. Stand down and let your better half do the job.