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Wife of Justice Thomas rebuts claims of conflict of interest

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas talks to his wife, Ginny Thomas, a conservative activist, at the Heritage Foundation on Oct. 21, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Drew Angerer
Getty Images
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas talks to his wife, Ginny Thomas, a conservative activist, at the Heritage Foundation on Oct. 21, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Updated March 15, 2022 at 3:38 PM ET

Ginni Thomas, the controversial wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, says her activities on behalf of Donald Trump and other conservative causes have no bearing on the work of her husband. In an interview with the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website, she says, that while the couple "share many of the same ideals, principles and aspirations for America...we have our own separate careers, and out own ideas and opinions too."

In the interview published Monday, she said that while she did attend the Jan. 6 rally to protest President Biden's election, she left before Donald Trump took the stage at noon, and before rioters broke into the U.S. Capitol.

"I was disappointed and frustrated that there was violence that happened following a peaceful gathering of Trump supporters on the Ellipse," she told the Free Beacon.

The interview was apparently an effort by Mrs. Thomas to deal with critical articles that have appeared recently in The New York Timesand the New Yorker, describing her extensive conservative political activities. That has led some to suggest that her husband, Justice Thomas, should recuse himself from issues in which his wife has played a prominent role. Those range from her activities on behalf of Trump to her speeches condemning the Affordable Care Act.

Critics have maintained that Justice Thomas should recuse himself from participating in cases that touch on issues his wife has publicly spoken about, even campaigned about. In January, for instance, the Supreme Court rejected Trump's effort to block a congressional subpoena for White House records related to the events surrounding the certification of the 2020 presidential election, and the Jan. 6 riot. The vote was 8-to-1, with Justice Thomas the lone dissenter. In her interview with the Free Beacon, Mrs. Thomas said she and her husband do not discuss Supreme Court cases "until [the court's] opinion are public --and even then, our discussions have always been very general and limited to public information."

The Code of Judicial Conduct For United States Judges, written by the U.S. Judicial Conference, applies to lower court judges, but at least technically, does not apply to Supreme Court Justices. Though the justices generally try to conform to the code, compliance is not mandatory, and to date the high court has resisted establishing its own code of conduct.

There is, however, a federal recusal statute, which does apply to the Supreme Court. It requires justices to recuse themselves from participating in any case that presents a financial conflict involving close family members. In furtherance of that statute, Supreme Court justices and their spouses are required to file annual financial disclosure forms.

In 2011 Justice Thomas amended his financial disclosure statements for the years 2003 to 2007. The amended forms disclosed that over that over four year period, the conservative Heritage Foundation had paid his wife $680,000. The retroactive amendments came after Common Cause reported that his wife's salary had been omitted for those years.

"What's harming the court is not his failure to disclose her income, but her vociferous advocacy," says NYU law professor Stephen Gillers, author of a leading textbook on legal ethics. "We have never since 1790 had any justice doing anything like that. It's an in your face behavior and she just doesn't seem to care." The harm, adds Gillers, is to the court itself, and it reputation.

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Corrected: March 15, 2022 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Fix the Court had reported that Ginni Thomas' salary had been omitted from Justice Thomas' financial disclosure statements. The group Common Cause had reported it.
Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.