Sweet Virginia

Article excerpt

Byline: Lisa Miller

The wife of Justice Clarence Thomas is a Tea Party activist. Together, they're the right's new power couple.

Justice Clarence Thomas probably had a ho-hum day on June 7, 2010. From time to time, the Supreme Court of the United States makes historic decisions, but on that day, it didn't. It handed down three noncontroversial rulings, and in all of them, Justice Thomas voted, non controversially, with the majority.

His wife, on the other hand, started the day in a blaze of publicity. Virginia Lamp Thomas, known to all as Ginni, appeared that morning on Sean Hannity's Fox show. Wearing a TV-red jacket, Thomas bantered with Hannity about the "tyranny" President Barack Obama and his party are inflicting on the country. Then Thomas, who had recently launched a nonprofit called Liberty Central, sounded a dire warning. "We are in a fight for our country's life," she said. "We've all got to do whatever we can." Channeling Tea Party rhetoric, she called on conservative voters to give money, sign petitions, and, in November, overthrow those who are turning "citizens" into "subjects."

It's like a Hollywood movie. One spouse goes off to work at the Supreme Court, that most august of institutions, where formality and discretion reign. The other puts on her power suit--and occasionally, a foam Lady Liberty crown--and enters the raucous, chaotic world of Tea Party politics and Fox News pontificating. Ever since Ginni Thomas launched Liberty Central with $550,000 in November 2009, she has become a rising star in the constellation of conservative pundits. According to its Web site, Liberty Central is a nonpartisan educational group devoted to reviving America's "Founding Principles--limited government, personal responsibility, individual liberty, free enterprise, and national security." It offers scorecards on politicians, a petition against tax increases, and testimonials about the benefits of grassroots activism. (Both Thomases declined to comment for this story.)

More modulated that your average Tea Partier, Ginni Thomas hits her talking points with the poise of someone at home in the world of conservative politics and policy--as she has been, for decades. A lawyer, former staffer for the Republican congressman Dick Armey, and a former director at the Heritage Foundation, she speaks of herself as a bridge between the Republican establishment and the crowds rallying out of anger and frustration.

Her overt disgust with Obama and Liberty's political tone have caused some on the left to wonder whether her new job puts her in conflict with her husband's claims to impartiality. "Before it's too late," warned the syndicated radio columnist Bill Press, "either Mr. Thomas or Mrs. Thomas should step aside and find another job." But barring the appearance of Clarence Thomas at a Tea Party rally, even reasonable critics can't find any ethical impropriety in Ginni's public role. "I may not agree with Ginni Thomas on any policy issue, but what she's doing seems--if I can't say utterly commendable one could certainly say utterly proper in a democracy," says David Garrow, a historian at Cambridge University. …