The Hypocritical Assault on Justice Clarence Thomas

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas listens as President Trump speaks on the South Lawn of the White House on October 26, 2020.


Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

“We are well past the day when it is assumed that a wife’s opinion is the same as her husband’s.”

So argued Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, in 2013. If the professor’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s been quoted by seemingly every major media outlet since last week’s news of Virginia Thomas, the wife by Judge Clarence Thomas, sent text messages to Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, urging him to fight the 2020 election results.

The Los Angeles Times described Mr. Gillers as “a scholar of legal ethics,” and The New York Times called him “one of the nation’s leading experts on legal ethics.” But it turns out that the professor’s ethics, like those of many liberal Democrats today, are situational. In 2013, he defended a decision by the late Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt not to retire from a case involving the American Civil Liberties Union, even though Reinhart’s wife, Ramona Ripston, had served as the ACLU’s executive director for Southern California.

“MS. Ripston’s opinions, views and public statements in support of the district court’s opinion . . . no reasonable basis on which to question Judge Reinhardt’s ability to honor his oath of office,” a friend of the court claimed on behalf of Mr. Gillers and four others.”A contrary finding would render a judge’s spouse unfit to practice law, which would be tantamount to a marriage penalty.”

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Reinhardt had a well-deserved reputation as one of the most liberal judges on one of the nation’s most liberal appellate courts. That may explain why Mr Gillers and his partisan allies have changed their minds. “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is not an acceptable strategy for the Thomases’ marriage,” he now tells reporters. “Both have crossed a line and deserve no doubt.”

For anyone not wearing ideological blinders, Judge Thomas and his wife deserve the benefit of the doubt as much as Reinhardt and his wife. And there are other examples. Judge Cornelia Pillard of the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is married to David Cole, the ACLU’s national legal director. The husband of Sixth Circuit Judge Alice Batchelder served as Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives. Marjorie Rendell was an appellate judge when her husband Ed was Governor of Pennsylvania and chair of the Democratic National Committee. When these judges had to withdraw from a case because of a conflict of interest, they were trusted to do so.

Justice Thomas’ critics want to hold him less to a higher standard than to another. Important cases related to abortion, gun control, affirmative action and freedom of religion are on the High Court’s agenda this year. The aim of the left is to reduce its influence – and with it the influence of the conservative wing of the court. And since the target is Judge Thomas, who has been driving his ideological opponents insane for the past 30 years, the view is that anything goes.

“The facts here are clear,” Senator Amy Klobuchar told ABC News on Sunday. “You have the wife of a sitting Supreme Court Justice who advocates insurrection.” No, that’s not the facts, unless the senator knows something the rest of us don’t. No evidence has been released that Ms Thomas incited violence or had anything to do with Trump supporters looting the Capitol. To lump them together with those who did it is slander. All we know is that she urged Mr. Meadows to “stand firm” against what she believed to be “election robbery.” If a case comes to court involving Ms. Thomas or her activities, Judge Thomas may make a denial decision at that time.

Perhaps more disturbingly, Ms. Klobuchar, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sounded like she was threatening Chief Justice John Roberts to honor the wishes of her Congressional Democrats. “All I hear right now is silence from the Supreme Court and that better change in the coming week,” she said. “Not just should [Justice Thomas] retire, but this Supreme Court is in dire need of ethics rules.” The Chief Justice has made it clear that he cares deeply about the Court’s reputation. One way to tarnish that reputation would be to bow to the politics and passions of the day, as the likes of Ms Klobuchar are suggesting.

Clarence Thomas is the longest serving member of the Court and has consistently followed its case law for decades. We trust judges to act professionally and with integrity when it comes to denial decisions, and Judge Thomas has earned our trust.

Journal Editor’s Report: Supreme Court confirmation hearings end in Liberal attack on Justice Clarence Thomas. Images: Zuma Press/AP Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the print edition of March 30, 2022. The Hypocritical Assault on Justice Clarence Thomas

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