It’s not often — in fact, it has probably never happened — that the spouse of a serving Supreme Court justice has overshadowed the typically hyperpartisan Senate hearing of a prospective justice.
But there aren’t many — if, in fact, any — spouses remotely like Virginia Thomas, the hard-right activist wife of hard-right Justice Clarence Thomas.
Actually, “hard right” probably doesn’t do justice in describing the politics of Ginni, as she’s known. Unhinged, in the Rudy Giuliani style, would be much closer. I mean, I don’t know of any other Supreme Court spouse who has ever texted a White House chief of staff, urging him to “release the Kraken,” in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election. If you don’t understand the Kraken code, here’s an explainer.
I also doubt if there were any other Supreme Court spouses in the crowd for Donald Trump’s January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally that directly preceded — and likely provoked — the violent assault on the Capitol.
If you had the stomach to watch the Senate hearings, you saw a handful of Republican senators — most of them potential presidential candidates in 2024 or 2028 — dog-whistling their way throughout, loudly and angrily accusing Ketanji Brown Jackson, who would be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, of being soft on child pornographers.
Let’s call the ugly (if easily debunked) charge what it was — a not-so-subtle wink-wink to the Pizzagaters and QAnoners out there as well as an object lesson in the power of demagoguery. Leading the charge was Sen. Josh Hawley, previously best known for his raised-fist salute to the Jan. 6 protesters. He’s now apparently a hero among the Q crowd.
Meanwhile, Ted Cruz was at his most obnoxious in trying to tie Jackson to critical race theory — another prominent right-wing cause — because of books taught at the private Georgetown Day School, where Jackson is on the board. Sadly, for Cruz anyway, it turns out that the private school in Houston that Cruz’s kids attend has basically the same anti-racist curriculum as Georgetown Day. Who knew Cruz was so woke?
On the last day of the hearings, the Washington Post broke the news that Virginia Thomas and Mark Meadows — Trump’s last chief of staff — had exchanged a series of at least 29 texts in support of claims that the 2020 election had been rigged. On the day after the networks called the election for Biden, Thomas sent a text urging Meadows to lead the resistance:
““Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!…You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”
The exchanges ran the gamut of how to help Trump in the Big Lie, which they both apparently thought was, well, God’s truth.
Here’s Meadows to Thomas: “This is a fight of good versus evil. Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues. I have staked my career on it. Well at least my time in DC on it.”
To which Thomas replied: “Thank you!! Needed that! This plus a conversation with my best friend just now… I will try to keep holding on. America is worth it!”
We don’t know who the best friend was, but if you’re among those wondering whether it might be Clarence Thomas, you’re not alone.
In 2022, most of us understand that spouses have their own life and the right to hold and express their own opinions. But we’ve moved into murkier territory here. If Virginia Thomas was, as it seems clear, intimately involved in trying to overturn the 2020 election, where does that leave Justice Thomas? Do we really believe that the Thomas family never discussed the outcome of the 2020 election?
It would seem that Justice Thomas would have to recuse himself in any matters that come to the Supreme Court related to the election and to Trump’s role in either attempting to subvert the results or in encouraging the January 6 assault.
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After the assault, remember, 140 Republican House members and seven senators still voted to block the counting of electoral votes. That’s a lot of crazy.
In contrast, Jackson has promised, if confirmed by the Senate, to recuse herself from a case involving Harvard’s race-conscious admissions procedures. Jackson did attend Harvard University and Harvard Law, but most legal analysts didn’t think a recusal was required.
And yet, Thomas has already ruled in at least two cases. You may remember that the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s attempt to block the release of White House papers relevant to January 6. You may not remember that Meadows sent a brief in support of Trump’s position. But you should remember — and in any case, you’ll be reminded from now on — that the court’s ruling was 8-1, with the lone dissenter being, well, I bet you can guess.
That’s right. Thomas dissented. He didn’t write anything — just cast his vote. Earlier, when the Supreme Court ruled not to hear Trump’s election challenges, Thomas did write, saying he was “baffled” by the decision.
We don’t know if Thomas had any idea that his wife’s correspondence could be among the papers. She says they keep their careers completely separate. We do know that she had very publicly criticized the House January 6 committee, signing a letter along with other prominent Republicans.
The texts we do know about were given to the committee back when Meadows was still cooperating. He’s now awaiting a ruling on executive privilege. But, in any case, it appears Thomas’ White House communications weren’t limited to Meadows. In one text, Thomas told Meadows she had been in touch with Jared, presumably meaning Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Justice Thomas, who was just released from the hospital, could of course now explain his lone vote in trying to block the release of the papers. But don’t hold your breath. I don’t expect him to say anything on the matter, just as I don’t expect him to do the right thing and recuse himself in future cases. Certainly more cases are coming.
The rule for Supreme Court justices on recusal is that there are no rules. It’s up to the justice, and that justice alone, to determine whether there’s any appearance of a conflict of interest.
Whether or not there is a conflict, there’s not much argument about appearance. Thomas had made no secret about her support for Trump in the post-election period. We didn’t know that she was in direct, and fairly constant, contact with the White House or just how deep into the conspiracy waters she was swimming. And, speaking of waters, you can start with early texts supporting the crazed theory that Trump had watermarks placed on mail-in ballots in 12 states to prevent the Chinese from, uh, participating by making their own ballots.
It goes further. Here’s Thomas going full QAnon, or full Sidney Powell anyway, in a text to Meadows two days after the election:
“Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators (elected officials, bureaucrats, social media censorship mongers, fake stream media reporters, etc) are being arrested & detained for ballot fraud right now & over coming days, & will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition.”
Last I saw, Biden wasn’t at GITMO, but in Europe showing support for Ukraine’s courageous stand against Trump’s buddy, Vladimir Putin, and his, uh, genius decision to go to war.
But if you’re into conspiracy theories, just remember that it wasn’t just Trump and it wasn’t just Meadows and it wasn’t just Ginni Thomas. On the night of the assault, 140 House Republicans and seven senators still voted to block the counting of the electoral votes that, once counted, made Biden president. Crazy, huh?
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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