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In September of 2021, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gave a speech at Notre Dame University, slamming members of the media who claim that the court has become a partisan body.
“I think the media makes it sound as though you are just always going right to your personal preference,” Thomas said. “So if they think you are anti-abortion or something personally, they think that’s the way you always will come out. They think you’re for this or for that. They think you become like a politician. That’s a problem. You’re going to jeopardize any faith in the legal institutions.”
Although Thomas claims that the courts are neutral arbiters of the law, the public is becoming less convinced. The Supreme Court’s approval rating has hit 40%, a new low according to Gallup. The perception that the Supreme Court is a partisan institution, not one that is solely focused on a neutral interpretation of the law, is no doubt part of the reason. And the justice’s wife isn’t helping the court with any perception of neutrality.
Ginni Thomas is a hardline conservative activist who is politically invested in some of the matters that have come before the court. The 6-3 conservative court is poised to make decisions in the near future on issues such as abortion, where Ginni Thomas’s activist allies stand to benefit from conservative rulings.
Ginni Thomas is no stranger to political controversy. She endorsed the protests at the Capitol which eventually became an insurrection, and she has posted on social media that she “loves MAGA people.” She also has a presence in the world of conservative activism. A director of CNP Action, a dark money conservative group, she has also been a board member for Turning Point USA, a pro-Trump student group that bussed protesters into the January 6th rally at the Capitol. Thomas also currently sits on an advisory board for the National Association of Scholars, a group that filed an amicus brief before the Supreme Court in an affirmative action lawsuit against Harvard.
This kind of political involvement by a Supreme Court justice’s spouse is unorthodox. Most attempt to limit their political activism to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest, especially in polarizing cases. But Ginni Thomas has taken the opposite route, openly flaunting her activism. She’s reposted conspiracy theories about figures such as George Soros and Barack Obama online. With major rulings on abortion, affirmative action, and gun rights set for the summer of 2022, Ginni Thomas’ activism could become an even bigger issue for the court and its legitimacy.
Despite behaving like a partisan actor in recent years, the Supreme Court cares deeply about its legitimacy. Ginni Thomas’ activism–and how it potentially influences her husband’s votes on the Supreme Court–could make it much harder for Americans to continue believing that the court is neutrally interpreting the law. In the future, that could lead to greater public support for serious reforms of court ethics and standards.