News of the new conservative activist group founded by the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has ignited a bit of media firestorm.
As DC Dicta noted briefly last month, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas founded Liberty Central, a website that will, according to a description made a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee last month, provide “history and philosophical instruction to Tea Party activists and those dissatisfied with the current direction of American government.”
The site went largely unnoticed until some news organizations took notice over the past few days, noting in particular that the new venture could benefit from the recent Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. Under that ruling, nonprofit groups like Liberty Central can receive unlimited corporate donations.
While Mrs. Thomas’ participation in the group violates no ethical rules, political and legal watchers said the potential for conflict does exist.
“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,” New York University law professor Stephen Gillers, an expert on legal ethics, told the Los Angeles Times.
A Supreme Court spokesperson told the Washington Post that Justice Thomas would not comment on his wife’s website or on how he might recuse himself should a conflict arise.
Sue Hamblen, Liberty Central’s national coordinator, defended Mrs. Thomas’ right to launch the new political project.
“She did not give up her First Amendment rights when her husband became a Supreme Court judge,” Hamblen told the Post.
When asked about the potential impact of the new endeavor on her husband’s work, Virginia Thomas told the Times: “I don’t involve myself in litigation. Are you asking that because there’s a different standard for conservatives? Did you ask Ed Rendell that question?” She referred to the Democratic Pennsylvania governor, who is married to a federal appellate court judge.