Jurisprudence

The First Couple of Trump’s America

Clarence Thomas is moving closer to the right-wing fringe. His wife Ginni is already there.

Ginni Thomas, Clarence Thomas.
Ginni Thomas, Clarence Thomas.
Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images (2).

Clarence Thomas is a Supreme Court justice whose former clerks form the intellectual backbone of the Trump administration. His wife Ginni Thomas is a firebrand conservative activist who lobbies on behalf of causes that occasionally come before the Supreme Court. Neither has ever been shy about promoting their far-right views. Recently, though, their behavior has gotten decidedly Trumpier.

Start with Ginni, who has a long history of defending her husband’s positions in the political arena. In 2009, she founded a Tea Party lobbying group called Liberty Central to support Republicans and oppose President Barack Obama’s “hard-left agenda.” Liberty Central was initially funded by just two anonymous donors and focused its efforts on fighting the Affordable Care Act. Ginni left the group in 2010, but re-emerged months later as the head of a different lobbying firm, Liberty Consulting, doing largely the same work. She also joined the Daily Caller as a columnist. (In January, she interviewed her husband for a Daily Caller video.)

This work was brazenly partisan but also vaguely respectable. Ginni operated in combative conservative circles and sometimes crossed the line, as when she called Anita Hill to request an apology for “what you did with my husband.” Yet she refrained from openly embracing the fringe right—the birthers and secessionists at the edge of the GOP. Many progressives argued that Ginni’s advocacy was improper in light of her husband’s position. But the spouses of federal judges are allowed to have their own lives and careers, and Ginni’s views should not automatically be imputed to her husband.

Over the last year and half, however, the nature of Ginni’s work has changed. Liberty Consulting appears to have mostly ceased operations, though it has maintained its business registration in Virginia. (Its website is no longer active.) Ginni hasn’t written for the Daily Caller in two months, and a source told me she is “winding down” her work there. (Her last post, in February, featured an interview with James O’Keefe.) In the absence of those two outlets, Ginni has looked for other ways to continue her crusade. The Daily Beast has reported that in the midst of the fight over Trump’s first travel ban, Ginni emailed a conservative listserv asking how she could “set up a daily text capacity for a ground up-grassroots army for pro-Trump daily action items.” She hoped that this service would help Trump supporters “push back against the left’s resistance efforts” to “make America ungovernable.”

Nothing came of that idea, but Ginni did team up with United in Purpose, an evangelical voter-mobilization group, to launch the Impact Awards. At a ceremony held at the Trump International Hotel in December, Ginni presented these awards to “12 conservative leaders who are making a transformational impact on American culture.” The recipients included O’Keefe, Sean Hannity, and Charlie Kirk, CEO of Turning Point USA, a conservative group that operates on college campuses. (Turning Point has been accused of racial bias and illegal campaign activity; Thomas serves on its advisory council.) Hannity delivered the keynote address.

Ginni has also increasingly taken to sharing her views on Facebook. Over the last few months, she has shared memes that attack David Hogg, John McCain, Robert Mueller, Andrew McCabe, Charles Schumer, the Girl Scouts, the American Civil Liberties Union, DACA recipients, and Obama’s portrait artist. She has praised Rep. Devin Nunes and Donald Trump Jr. while asserting that Obama wiretapped Trump and rigged the 2016 election for Hillary Clinton. She shared a video asking, “Do Democrats Even Love America?” And she alleged that the Holocaust was enabled by gun control. (It wasn’t.)

It appears that as Ginni Thomas’ connections to semi-reputable conservative groups fade, she has embraced the fringe. Meanwhile, her husband may be undergoing a similar, though much subtler, transformation. In November, Clarence Thomas granted an interview to Laura Ingraham, his former law clerk, for her Fox News show Ingraham Angle. Many court-watchers, myself included, were surprised by the justice’s willingness to appear alongside the notorious propagandist, their court connection notwithstanding: Clarence makes few public appearances, grants fewer one-on-one interviews, and almost never does TV. It was especially startling when he took up Ingraham’s offer to bash political correctness, telling her, “I think we’re getting quite comfortable in our society limiting ideas and exposure to ideas.” (An immensely charming and voluble man off the bench, he typically avoids taking the bait when interviewers try to goad him into making headlines.)

Then, in February, the justice issued his Trumpiest opinion yet, condemning his colleagues for refusing to review a lower court’s decision affirming the constitutionality of California’s “cooling-off” period for gun purchases. (These waiting periods have been shown to save lives.) He assailed the court for having “more favored rights” than the Second Amendment, overturning laws restricting abortion, free speech, and personal privacy while ignoring gun restrictions. He also rebuked the lower court for protecting the free expression of nude dancers and the marriage rights of same-sex couples. His dissent was an embarrassing, discursive tirade that might as well have been ghostwritten by Dana Loesch; no other justice joined it.

And while Clarence hasn’t joined Ginni in condemning Parkland activists like Hogg, he has cheered on Kyle Kashuv, a Parkland survivor who opposes gun control. In early April, the two met at an event in Washington, D.C., where according to Kashuv, the justice told him the Second Amendment “won’t be touched.” That isn’t unethical; justices are permitted to have public opinions on these issues. It is odd, though, for someone who’s sitting on the high court to step into a highly charged political debate. Given that Kashuv has expressly lobbied against a slew of restrictions that would, in his view, infringe upon the Second Amendment, it’s difficult to read Clarence Thomas’ comment as anything other than an endorsement of Kashuv’s beliefs.

To be sure, Clarence has not gone nearly as far as his Ginni in embracing fringy Trumpist dogma. But it’s clear that both Thomases have been invigorated by Trump’s presidency, seizing upon this unhinged political moment to promote their agendas with renewed zeal and a diminishing concern for optics. Yes, Clarence and Ginni lead separate lives. But on the major questions of the day, they appear almost perfectly aligned with each other—and the White House.