In Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Cecily observes “I have never met any really wicked person before… I am so afraid he will look just like every one else.” The quote came to mind this week after Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) demanded an investigation of Ginni Thomas. Whitehouse insists that there is a “big investigative gap” in pursuing the leaker of the draft Supreme Court opinion in the pending abortion case, but not the wife of Clarence Thomas. Ginni Thomas supported the challenge to the certification of the 2020 election.
Even in the age of rage, the investigation of the spouse of a sitting justice due to her political views is shocking. However, other members and even legal experts have called for such investigations or the actual impeachment of her husband.
Rep. IIhan Omar (D., Minn.) was the first member of Congress to call for Thomas to be impeached when it was revealed that the Jan. 6th Commission found 29 messages of his wife, Ginni, to the White House. MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan echoed the call for impeachment as did former Sen. Barbara Boxer and others. Boxer was particularly ironic since she used the same underlying federal law to challenge the certification of George W. Bush’s election.
The position of Ginni Thomas on the election was no surprise. She is a well-known Republican activist and Trump supporter. In her communications, Thomas encouraged then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to pursue legal and legislative challenges to what she viewed as a stolen election. That was a position supported by millions of voters.
We have come a long way from the days when spouses were viewed as mere extensions of their husbands. Ginni Thomas is an activist and the couple has often discussed how they keep their professional lives apart. Yet, these members are suggesting that Justice Thomas can be investigated or impeached because he essentially failed to keep his wife in line and silent on this national controversy.
On MSNBC’s “The Last Word,” Sen. Whitehouse mocked “how Chief Justice Roberts went to DEFCON 1 over the leak of the Alito abortion opinion and demanded investigations and said it was a betrayal of the court.”
Yet, he noted “If you look at the Ginni Thomas situation … it seems to me that when you have the spouse of the Supreme Court justice now repeatedly connected with an insurrection against the country and now connected with an individual who is so deeply in trouble that a White House, a Trump White House legal counsel advised him to get a criminal defense attorney, that if you are going to go to DEFCON 1 over the leak of a draft opinion, you might want to consider going to DEFCON 3 or 4 or 5 and start investigating within the court what the heck is going on here.” He asked why Chief Justice Roberts is “unwilling to look at its own problems as regards Justice Thomas.”
The reason may be that leaking the opinion is clearly unethical and potentially criminal conduct. What Ginni Thomas did is called free speech. Thomas had every right to call for a challenge to the election even though some of us viewed the effort as unfounded. Marriage to a justice does not come with some form of indentured servitude where you must suspend the exercise of constitutional rights like freedom of speech.
The challenge to the 2020 election was no surprise. Indeed, not long after the election, I wrote about that possibility in what I called the “Death Star strategy.” It is not a crime to plan such a challenge, even without good cause. It was the same course taken by Democrats without any outcry from the media in challenging Republican presidents.
When Boxer launched her own challenge to President Bush on this law, Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised her challenge as “witnessing Democracy at work. This isn’t as some of our Republican colleagues have referred to it, sadly, as frivolous. This debate is fundamental to our democracy.” Joining her in that challenge was Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who now chairs the committee looking into the Jan. 6th riot, challenged the election of George W. Bush. (Fellow Committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) sought to challenge Trump’s certification in 2016).
We certainly could investigate Ginni Thomas to confirm that she “looks just like every one else” in Washington. She is someone who speaks her mind as a conservative activist. She is also the spouse of a Supreme Court justice. Her professional and marital positions are entirely separate and distinct.
Obviously, Sen. Whitehouse is not the first to yield to the sensational over the sensible in venting about the Court. There is little attraction for the sensible in cable. As Cecily added in the Wilde play, “I don’t think I would like to catch a sensible man. I shouldn’t know what to talk to him about.”