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The Scariest Couple in America: Clarence and Virginia Thomas

One of the most frightening articles to recently appeared in The New York Times is “The Long Crusade of Clarence and Ginni Thomas” by Danny Hakim and Jo Becker.  It is a follow-up article to one written by Jane Mayer, “Is Ginni Thomas a Threat to the Supreme Court,” in The New Yorker. They should be read as a warning, a foreshadowing, of what is likely to come as the U.S. Supreme Court and radical-right politics gain increasingly more power and influence.

The Times’s authors note, “Since the founding of the nation, no spouse of a sitting Supreme Court justice has been as overt a political activist as Ginni Thomas.”  They add, quoting Mrs. Thomas, that the couple believe that “America is in a vicious battle for its founding principles.”  Going further, the authors argue, “In a nation freighted by division and upheaval, the Thomases have found their moment.”

For all of Pres. Donald Trump’s ranting, corruption and false claims, his appointment of three fierce conservatives to the Court will be his historical legacy. Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett have joined Thomas and Samuel Alito to forge a solid rightwing majority.  Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, seeks to serve as a moderating force, holding the shrinking center.  The liberal wing has shrunk to Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer; Breyer is retiring and will likely be replaced by Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first African American to be appointed to the Court.

History has its own surprises.  In 1991, Pres. George H. W. Bush nominated Thomas for the Court to replace Thurgood Marshall.  Marshall served as chief of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and argued the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, in which the Court declared “separate but equal” unconstitutional in public schools.

Thomas was a very different appointment. A Yale Law School graduate, he was influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand.  He worked for Senator John Danforth (MO) and briefly served as head of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.  At his Senate confirmation hearing, chaired by Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), Anita Hill raised concerns regarding sexual harassment that were swept under the proverbial rug.  The Times article identifies three other women who allege that they were subject to Thomas’s harassment, including one while he has served on the Court.

The most revealing insight into Justice Thomas might well have been offered by Brown Jackson, now being consider for a Court seat.  At a lunch meeting with Thomas, she recalled thinking: “’I don’t understand you. You sound like my parents. You sound like people I grew up with.’ But the lessons he tended to draw from the experiences of the segregated South seemed to be different than those of everybody I know.”

Thomas and Ginni Lamb met in 1986 while she worked for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; they married 1987. She is from a leading Republican family of Omaha (NB), her mother a leading figure in the state – and national – Republican Party.  The Washington Post reported that one of her aunts said, “He [Thomas] treated her so well, all of his other qualities, made up for his being Black.”

Mrs. Thomas has long been a conservative political activist.  In 1996, Phyllis Schlafly, who successful blocked the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), praised her as a “second-generation Engle”; Schlafly found the Eagle Forum, a conservative group, in 1975.  Justice Thomas appeared at the event with his wife.  In 2010, she founded Liberty Central to link “Tea Party groups and the new citizen activists.”

In 2013, Mrs. Thomas joined with Stephen Bannon, John Bolton and Frank Gaffney to found the Groundswell group that sought, in the words of one report, to “cook up battle plans for their ongoing fights against the Obama administration, congressional Democrats, progressive outfits, and the Republican establishment and ‘clueless’ GOP congressional leaders.”  One of its members was James O’Keefe, founder of Project Veritas.  Together with O’Keefe, she reportedly founded Crowdsourcers. In addition, she has been associated with other leading conservative organizations, including Turning Point USA, the Heritage Foundation and The Daily Caller.  She also runs her own consulting firm, Liberty Consulting.

Virginia Thomas is an active member of the Council for National Policy, founded in 1981. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes it as “a coalition of influential right-wing leaders, political operatives, conservative media figures, members of the religious right, free-market fundamentalists and donors.”  It adds, “the coalition operates on multiple fronts and focuses on political strategy, media and grassroots organizing.”

The New Yorker reports that in 2010 Thomas, with Kimberly Fletcher, head of a group called Moms for America, co-hosted the “Remember the Ladies Banquet” at the Liberty xpo & Symposium, described as the “largest conservative training event in history.”  Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, was a speaker at the symposium.

The Times notes that in 2019, she “joined the nine-member board of C.N.P Action, an arm of the council organized as a 501(c)4 … that allows for direct political action.” The New Yorker’s Meyer describes C.N.P. Action, “behind closed doors, [it] connects wealthy donors with some of the most radical right-wing figures in America.”

The most troubling part of the Times story concerns “the extent to which Justice Thomas flouted judicial-ethical guidance by participating in events hosted by conservative organizations with matters before the court.”  It adds, “those organizations showered the couple with accolades and, in at least one case, used their appearance to attract event fees, donations and new members.”

In 2002, Thomas headlined an event for the Council for National Policy and in ’08 he attended one of its meetings and, according to the Times, “was photographed with a gavel behind a lectern bearing the group’s name.”  That same year he offered the keynote address at a special Manhattan Institute event and allegedly attended an all-expenses paid retreat put on by Charles Koch in Palm Springs (CA). (Koch funded a documentary, “Created Equal,” about Thomas.)  In 2017, Thomas made a second appearance at the Eagle Forum when his wife received a special award.

Mrs. Thomas attended the 2016 Republican convention as a Sen. Ted Cruz (R-FL) delegate initially opposed to Trump’s nomination.  However, once he was in office, she became a devoted Trump supporter.  Following Kavanaugh’s nomination of the Court in July 2018, Trump invited Justice Thomas to a private dinner at the White House and he brought Mrs. Thomas.  In follow-up, Ginni Thomas sought repeated meetings with Trump, which he apparently obliged.

At one, as The New Yorker reports, “by all accounts it was uncomfortable.”  It then notes:

Thomas opened by saying that she didn’t trust everyone in the room, then pressed Trump to purge his Administration of disloyal members of the “deep state,” handing him an enemies list that she and Groundswell had compiled. Some of the participants prayed, warning that gay marriage, which the Supreme Court legalized in 2015, was undermining morals in America.

The Times notes that a Trump aide told reporters that “she [Thomas] began by leading the prayer.”  It also reported the aide mentioned “talk about ‘the transgender agender’ and parents ‘chopping off their children’s breasts.’”  Thomas brought with her Frank Gaffney, head of Center for Security Policy and a leading proponent of banning Muslims, and several other associates.  As Mayer notes, “the White House was not informed that Gaffney’s group had been paying Liberty Consulting for the previous two years.”  The Times reports that an ex-Trump aide called the meeting between the former president and Ginni Thomas as the “craziest” meeting he’d ever attended.

Reflecting on Mrs. Thomas’s visits with Trump, the Times notes, “It was an event with no precedent …: the wife of sitting Supreme Court justice lobbying a sitting president when several cases involving transgender rights were making them way through the federal courts.”

Mrs. Thomas played an active role in support of the January 6th gathering at the Capitol.  According to The New Yorker, “In a Facebook post that went viral, she linked to a news item about the protest, writing, ‘love maga people!!!!’”  It noted that “Shortly afterward, she posted about Ronald Reagan’s famous “A Time for Choosing” speech. Her next status update said, “god bless each of you standing up or praying.” It points out that, two days after the insurrection, “she added a disclaimer to her feed, noting that she’d written the posts ‘before violence in US Capitol.’”

The New Yorker’s Mayer reminds readers: “Ginni Thomas has held so many leadership or advisory positions at conservative pressure groups that it’s hard to keep track of them. And many, if not all, of these groups have been involved in cases that have come before her husband.”

The increasingly politicized culture wars is the nexus where the interests of the scariest couple in America merge into a shared agenda.  A woman’s right to determine her pregnancy, gay/transgender rights, “critical race theory,” popular elections and book censorship, among others, are up for grabs.  As the Times warns, “… the Thomases are winning the war for the courts – and, some would argue, the country.”