We teach our children about fairness at an early age. We consider it a duty. Fairness is, after all, a key part of our social contract. We enshrine it in our constitution and embed it in our laws.
Not that we’re naïve — we understand the limits of fairness. We know about bullies, about casual cruelty, about people who put their thumbs on life’s scales. But while we freely acknowledge the weaknesses in the social contract, we nonetheless live by it, more or less, all our lives.
Which is why we’re so sickened to see that contract routinely breached by an endless parade of bad actors doing deep institutional damage, and getting away with it.
As much as we love the stories of bullies getting their comeuppance, the sad truth is that they rarely do. They revel in their unfairness. They invert reality. They smugly proclaim that up is down, then punish us for dissent. They make us the villain, and they hold our sense of fairness in abject contempt — a weakness to be exploited.
The Republican party has slowly morphed into one big, out-of-control bully. Happily embracing — and institutionalizing — the worst instincts
of humanity, they clearly think fairness is for suckers. They have taken for
themselves a broad license to lie, steal, and cheat — and they wonder why we have a problem with that.
We seethe in exasperation at their impunity, at the sheer audacity with which they use it, and at the seeming inability of our institutions to stop it.
With that in mind, let’s turn to Ginni Thomas, an unapologetic avatar for the bullies, for the people with their thumbs on the scale. While her marriage to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has repeatedly put them both in awkward ethical postures, ethics apparently plays little or no part in their pillow talk.
Jane Mayer, possibly the best investigative reporter on the planet, has had Ms. Thomas on her radar for some time now, and her article in last week’s New Yorker paints a vivid portrait of a dedicated, under-the-radar subversive.
I’ll let Mayer give you the basics:
The claim that the Justices’ opinions are politically neutral is becoming increasingly hard to accept, especially from Thomas, whose wife, Virginia (Ginni) Thomas, is a vocal right-wing activist. She has declared that America is in existential danger because of the “deep state” and the “fascist left,” which includes “transsexual fascists.” Thomas, a lawyer who runs a small political-lobbying firm, Liberty Consulting, has become a prominent member of various hard-line groups. Her political activism has caused controversy for years. For the most part, it has been dismissed as the harmless action of an independent spouse. But now the Court appears likely to secure victories for her allies in a number of highly polarizing cases—on abortion, affirmative action, and gun rights.
It’s hard not to be offended by Ms. Thomas’s antics over the years, all of which are richly chronicled. David Corn of Mother Jones and Karoli Kuns of Crooks & Liars singled her out back in 2013, when she was hard at work undermining the Obama administration. She has a history of conjuring scandals from thin air, then relentlessly flogging them through intensive media manipulation and under-the-table lobbying of Republican legislators.
She’s a founding member of Groundswell, a coalition of groups dedicated to hyper-activism, aggressively promoting policies and laws only the far-right fringes could love.
Groundswell takes money from the Mercers and other oligarchs, and invests it in subterfuge, misinformation, and a wide range of programs that tiptoe softly between the letter and the spirit of the law. They were heavily involved in the efforts to smother Obamacare in its crib, even as they were tormenting Hillary Clinton with their bogus Benghazi accusations.
More recently, Ms. Thomas famously tweeted her support for the MAGA loons assembled on Jan 6, only to take down the tweet when that mob turned violent at the Capitol. The whole world knows about that tweet, yet she rarely gets asked about it. One would think the press would be a lot more interested in that sort of behavior from the wife of a Supreme Court justice. Or not.
But let’s get back to that pillow talk.
Last week, the Supreme Court voted 8-to-1 to deny Donald Trump’s ludicrous claims of executive privilege, thereby clearing the early release of materials — presumably incriminating — requested by the Jan 6 investigation. From a legal standpoint, Trump’s case could not have been more open-and-shut, and even this deeply illegitimate Court had no choice but to rule against him.
Even so, there was that one dissenting vote from, yes, Clarence Thomas. Apparently, he has no problem with the suppression of evidence of sedition by an ex-president. Do any of us believe this subject was never discussed with his wife?
One of Mayer’s key points is that, in his thirty-year Supreme Court career, Justice Thomas should surely have recused himself from certain cases, early and often. But in multiple cases involving high-profile issues vigorously pressed by his wife, he has refused to recuse.
As Mayer points out, recusal isn’t just about the existence of a conflict of interest that might lead to an unfair judgment. It’s about the mere appearance of such unfairness. Supreme Court justices often recuse themselves for reasons that at first glance seem overly picky — Stephen Breyer has a brother who once worked at a law firm that was arguing a case before the Court — but when you think about it, it’s the only fair thing to do.
Fairness, alas, has never seemed to guide Clarence Thomas. His voting record on the Court has, almost invariably, carried an ideological stench, and the appearance of undue influence by his wife is unmistakable.
It’s obviously not unreasonable for a married couple to hold the same political views. But it’s beyond unreasonable that a Supreme Court justice will not recuse himself from those politically-charged cases that line up so neatly with his wife’s causes. He is married to a known political flame-thrower, with multiple connections to multiple matters that come before him, and the constitution lets him get away with it.
The things Ginni Thomas stands for are the opposite of fair, and they are being achieved through underhanded — if not outright illegal — means. How can we not think her husband is complicit?
The Supreme Court has just agreed to hear a case brought, with characteristic cynicism, by Ted Cruz. I won’t get into the details, which are widely available, but it involves campaign financing, and Cruz’s transparent effort to change the rules to make dark money even darker. A ruling in Cruz’s favor will remove certain limits on campaign donations, so that they’re easier to make and harder to trace. Cruz is out to make the world safe for bullies. It’s a case he would only bring to a 6-3 Court.
Raise your hand if you think Mr. and Ms. Thomas won’t be discussing this at breakfast? Raise it again if you think the outcome of Cruz’s case is in doubt?
The scales of justice are hard enough to keep in balance these days. We don’t need thumbs this powerful pushing down on them.