Monday, March 15, 2010

Supreme Court's Thomas: Conflict of Interest?...Nah

The internet has been buzzing with the Los Angeles Times article about the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas' political involvement. The article notes that Virginia Thomas "has launched a tea-party-linked group that could test the traditional notions of political impartiality for the court." Her organization, Liberty Central Inc., seeks to educate in Founding principles, motivate individuals around key issues, and engage in activism. From what I can tell by perusing around the organization's website, it seems to be your run-of-the-mill conservative activism non-profit.

What makes Liberty Central stand out is its president/CEO--Mrs. Clarence Thomas. I say this not to downplay her organization; I am sure they do fine work. My point is merely that Mrs. Thomas' husband's place on the highest court in the land is what makes this newsworthy--if, indeed, it is newsworthy.

I am not entirely convinced that Thomas' political involvement is a problem. Nowhere in the Constitution do we see a ban against such a situation. Moreover, legal experts have admitted that Mrs. Thomas' work violates no ethical rules. Nevertheless, there is still some concern over a potential conflict of interests. This concern is justified and should be something always guarded against. But so should it in all cases--regardless of whether a spouse is a judge, a legislator, or even a low-level bureaucrat. There is always potential for abuse, and we should safeguard against it. However, that reality should not forbid a spouse from pursuing a career. There is no need for one's ambition to be thwarted when another succeeds.Furthermore, we would be foolish to assume that judges' spouses are political neutral. I hate to break it to you, but the judges aren't even politically neutral.

Though the examples of spousal political involvement may be limited, their is a long history of members of the Court stepping aside to prevent conflicts of interests. I am sure that Justice Thomas would excuse himself from any proceeding involving Liberty Central, if a case happened to arise. Moreover, to suggest that Justice Thomas would use his position on the Court unethically to advance his wife's organization is both silly and unthinkable.

Virginia Thomas is no stranger to politics. She has over 30 years of beltway experience, including stints with Dick Armey and the Heritage Foundation. Nineteen of those years have been with her husband as a Supreme Court Justice. In that time we have seen no conflict of interests, giving us no reason to expect it now.

For now, we should remain vigilant (as we always should). If a problem arises, we should address it. But for I see no reason to worry. I don't say this because I like Justice Thomas, though I do in many ways. I say it because I am realistic. I know the Court, and I know that Justice Thomas is too bright and principled to unethically assist his wife.

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