Constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley on Monday assailed the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas for her growing role in Tea Party political activism.
“It’s, in a word, injudicious,” Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University, said on MSNBC’s Countdown With Keith Olbermann. “The fact that this is news is an example of the self-restraint used by most spouses [of Supreme Court Justices] previously.”
The Los Angeles Times brought the story to the nation’s attention on Sunday:
In January, Virginia Thomas created Liberty Central Inc., a nonprofit lobbying group whose website will organize activism around a set of conservative “core principles,” she said.
The group plans to issue score cards for Congress members and be involved in the November election, although Thomas would not specify how. She said it would accept donations from various sources — including corporations — as allowed under campaign finance rules recently loosened by the Supreme Court. ..
The move by Virginia Thomas, 52, into the front lines of politics stands in marked contrast to the rarefied culture of the nation’s highest court, which normally prizes the appearance of nonpartisanship and a distance from the fisticuffs of the politics of the day.
Thomas’s group will benefit financially from the Citizens United ruling, which her husband’s vote helped secure. Liberty Central pledges on its Web site to “preserve freedom and reaffirm the core founding principles” as well as help citizens “make a difference in the fight for liberty and against the liberal Washington agenda.”
Turley said it’s “not much to expect” for spouses to “try to refrain from direct political involvement, particularly to start a group like this so far into her husband’s tenure.”
He pointed out that neither Justice Thomas nor his wife are violating any ethics laws, but alleged her actions were rather unseemly and could raise questions about the impartiality of the Court’s justices, whose only role is to uphold the constitution.
Turley said it “adds additional political patina to what the court has been doing and the controversies we’ve had lately.” The Washington Post drew out the recent “sensitivities” about the court’s “conservative majority”:
It started with President Obama’s unusually blunt criticism of the court during his State of the Union address, when he lambasted the court’s 5 to 4 ruling that gave corporations and unions greater leeway to use their general treasuries to buy ads for and against political candidates.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said last week that Obama’s use of the address to criticize the court — six of the nine black-robed justices were at the front of the House chamber — was “very troubling.” Roberts questioned whether the court should continue to attend what he described as a “political pep rally.”
The White House responded with a renewed broadside, and Obama has said he was working with Congress to try to temper the effects of the decision, which he said would allow special interests to bankroll American elections.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, Virginia Thomas said, “We’ve got to get the Constitution back to a place where it means something . . . or we’re headed for tyranny,” in an interview with blogger Ed Morrissey.
“Teabagging Thomas,” quipped blogger Michael J.W. Stickings of The Reaction. “See, this is why Chief Justice Roberts’s recent little hissy fit over being challenged by President Obama was so ridiculous.”
This video is from MSNBC’s Countdown, broadcast March 15, 2010.