The embarrassing Mrs Thomas | The Economist

vIRGINIA TOMAS made headlines this week when he confirmed that he had attended Donald Trump’s pre-insurrection protest in Washington, DCon January 6, 2021. Frankly, it would have been surprising if he hadn’t.

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A well-connected activist, on the paranoid edge of the conservative establishment, Ms. Thomas was known for her fierce cultural struggle long before Trump turned her into Republican orthodoxy. Omahan, 65, abhors feminism and affirmative action, believing “America is in a fierce battle for its fundamental principles” against the “deep state” and a “fascist left” in which “transgender fascists” they are prominent. Educated in such views by Steve Bannon, a former comrade of Mrs. Thomas, Mr. Trump was happy to promote them. Ms. Thomas was reportedly known in the Trump White House as the “wrecking ball” (which by her standards was saying something) for her persistence in lobbying the president.

However, what sets Ms. Thomas apart is not only her activism, but also the fact that she is married to a Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas. no other SCOTUS spouse has played such an active political role. And since Judge Thomas often shows up at her job and raves about her “24/7…defense of liberty,” maybe not SCOTUS partner has, neither. In light of Ms. Thomas’s efforts to spread Mr. Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen, this has become controversial again.

“I LOVE the people of MAGA!!” he wrote on social media as they met on the day of the insurrection. “GOD BLESS EACH OF YOU STANDING OR IN PRAYER.” He later distanced himself from the violence that followed (he says he went home early because it was cold). He has also downplayed it, even signing a petition criticizing a House investigation into the riot, for which nearly 800 people have so far been charged with crimes, including a partisan witch hunt against “private citizens who have done nothing wrong.” “.

Recent revelations of Ms. Thomas’s activities have focused on the potential conflict they pose to her husband. the New York Times suggests Trump sponsored her just to cultivate Justice Thomas. the New Yorker warns that the court’s conservative majority is expected to rule shortly on significant affirmative action, gun rights and abortion cases in favor of activists associated with Ms Thomas. Many note that Justice Thomas was the sole dissent from a Supreme Court decision that forced Trump to comply with the January 6 investigation.

In Justice Thomas’s defense, none of that seems like a clear violation of conflict-of-interest rules. His jurisprudence, it should also be noted, is theoretically sufficient to explain most of his judgments without recourse to his politics. A committed originalist, he is one of the most intellectually consistent jurists on the court, as well as the most conservative. However, in a divided country, appearances matter. Public trust in the court is plummeting precisely because it is seen as too political. That makes Justice Thomas’ support of his wife’s activism reckless at best.

It is also at odds with his concern to prevent appearances from upsetting conservatives. Justice Thomas was the only dissent on the court against the recent expansion of mail-in voting on the grounds that even if it wasn’t fraudulent, as Republicans claimed, he feared he might appear to be. While he ignored a real, albeit exaggerated, liberal concern about his wife’s activism, in other words, he was careful to assuage an unsubstantiated conservative complaint.

He is hardly the first judge to reveal his partisan colors. Before the 2016 general election, the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg criticized Trump. Two years later, Brett Kavanaugh delivered a seething partisan diatribe at his Senate confirmation hearing. He claimed that Democratic opposition to his Supreme Court nomination was not in response to the sexual misconduct accusation he faced, but rather as “suppressed anger at President Trump” and “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” ”. However, Judge Kavanaugh’s partisanship has been somewhat dampened by his institutionalism, which urges restraint. Justice Thomas’s jurisprudence, by contrast, seems to amplify his policy.

His interpretation of the original meaning of the constitution not only leads him to unfailingly support conservative causes, from the right to bear arms to Trump. He has also made him unusually dismissive of opposing views, even when enshrined in legal precedent. When a past judgment is “demonstrably wrong,” he wrote in 2019, “we must not follow it.” Not even the late Antonin Scalia, his fellow originalist and hero, dared overthrow established law. “I’m an originalist and a textualist, not a nut,” Scalia once explained.

original without

Scholars have long admired the persuasive legal philosophy of Justice Thomas. However, it is difficult to reconcile with the Supreme Court’s claim to be politically neutral or, given the enormous mediating role that politicians have imposed on it, a healthy democracy. And yet, growing optimism and impatience with precedent among mainstream conservatives on the court suggest that Justice Thomas’s view, once an outlier, is becoming mainstream. “One can be both an admirer of Thomas’s jurisprudence and deeply fearful of what he portends,” says Steve Vladeck, a legal scholar.

On the contrary, it’s hard to admire Ms. Thomas’ traffic of complaints in almost any form. Whatever laudable goals she once had, she encapsulates the many Republicans whose exaggerated fears of the left led them to justify whatever new bass Trump had in store. And yet, unfortunately for Judge Thomas, an admirably self-made man, his activism and his judgment are comparable.

In politics and law, both Thomases are far too intolerant of opposing viewpoints, even as they represent the established opinion of the majority of Americans and, in Justice Thomas’s case, legal tradition. This equivalence is the most troubling significance of Ms. Thomas’s political activities. She is not in conflict with her husband. but rather the opposite.

Read more from Lexington, our columnist on American politics:
The Indispensable Leadership of Joe Biden (March 12)
The end of Putin’s delirium (March 5)
Unfolding reality against Putin (February 26)

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This article appeared in the US section of the print edition under the headline “Courting Problems.”

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