Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tightrope Walked By Spouses Of The Famous

 If she was Jane Doe and featured founder of a nonprofit group catering to "citizen activists" and preserving and reaffirming freedom of our "core founding principles," few people would raise an eyebrow, as the expression goes.

But Virginia "Ginni" Thomas is no ordinary Jane. She is the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, the most reticent and one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Web site for Liberty Central Inc., in which Thomas cofounded in January, says its purpose is to rally concerned Americans to "make a difference in the fight for liberty and against the liberal Washington agenda."

Sue Hamblen, Liberty Central's national coordinator, told the Washington Post the group is nonpartisan but conservative. Its nonprofit status frees it to raise unlimited amounts of money and is generally not required to disclose its donors.

That to me raises a -- shall we say a pink rather than red -- flag.

I wonder if Ginni Thomas's rather high-profile name as spouse of a sitting justice is the spark that triggers more donations to their cause than its closest peers, those in the Tea Party movement. Advantage: Liberty Central.

I don't wonder for a second that Liberty Central could be a corporate beneficiary of the court's recent 5-4 decision -- Clarence Thomas voting with the majority -- in the Citizens United case allowing unfettered contributions by businesses to political campaigns. It was rendered two months after Liberty Central incorporated and to suggest Ginni had a heads up is absurd.

I wonder if a cause supported by Mrs. Thomas is disputed and taken to her husband's workplace to render a decision.

I wonder whether Clarence Thomas would recuse himself. The Post, which followed the Los Angeles Times which followed political blogger Ed Morrisey, explained it this way:

A court spokeswoman said Justice Thomas would not comment on his wife's new endeavor or how he might recuse himself should a conflict arise. Justices make their own decisions about removing themselves from cases and usually do not explain why. Most typically, they recuse themselves when they have a financial interest in an issue before them, or when a decision could affect a family member. 

I wonder if this whole discussion is a tempest in a tea pot.

I  wonder if the grumbling from the left is because they don't agree with Ginni Thomas's beliefs and her husband's decisions. I suppose the same gripes would be voiced by conservatives if the liberal wife of a liberal justice was thrust in the limelight.

Spouses of high-profile mates have a difficult time and the public must understand they are people too with all the rights and priviliges any ordinary Jane or John Doe has.

The problem occurs only when the spouse crosses some imaginary line. My father, a rocked-ribbed Republican, railed against Eleanor Roosevelt claiming "she wouldn't have a leg to stand on if she wasn't the wife of (bleeping) Franklin Roosevelt, that damned socialist."

The Post, God bless it, cited one of the best juggling acts now going on in the state if not national political arena.

... Judge Marjorie O. Rendell of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia is married to Pennsylvania's Democratic governor, Ed Rendell. Following the judicial Committee on Codes of Conduct, Marjorie Rendell does not accompany her husband to political events. But she presides over other events as first lady. She seeks guidance from the committee over potential conflicts, and has a policy of recusing herself from a case in which a party has made a hefty contribution to her husband's campaign, unless both sides agree to waive the disqualification.

Ginni Thomas also was cleared, according to Hamblen as quoted by the Post:

Virginia Thomas met with ethics officials for the federal courts and was told her work "was in no way a conflict of interest."
"She did not give up her First Amendment rights when her husband became a Supreme Court judge," Hamblen said.

Good. Now, let's move on.

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