Clarence Thomas' Wife Quits Tea Party-Linked Group

Justice Clarence Thomas with his wife Virginia Thomas i

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sits with his wife, Virginia Lamp Thomas, as he is introduced at the Federalist Society in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 15, 2007. Charles Dharapak/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Charles Dharapak/AP
Justice Clarence Thomas with his wife Virginia Thomas

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sits with his wife, Virginia Lamp Thomas, as he is introduced at the Federalist Society in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 15, 2007.

Charles Dharapak/AP

The wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is reportedly stepping aside from her job as CEO of Liberty Central, a conservative political advocacy organization that describes itself as linked to the Tea Party.

A spokeswoman for the organization tells The Washington Post that the decision was made so that the group could continue its mission "without any of the distractions."

Virginia Thomas' leadership position in the organization has sparked criticism in recent months, and got renewed attention after she placed an early morning call to Brandeis professor Anita Hill last month. In a voice mail message, Thomas suggested that Hill apologize to Justice Thomas for the statements Hill made 19 years earlier at his confirmation hearing, accusing him of sexual harassment. Hill refused and said she had testified truthfully.

Thomas has not said what, if any role, she would continue to play in Liberty Central now that she has stepped down from the top job in the group. It is unclear whether she will continue to draw a salary.

Her role in the organization drew criticism not just because the group took positions on issues that her husband is likely to rule on, but because the funding for the group is not publicly disclosed. There is no way to know whether companies and individuals who have an interest in the outcome of Supreme Court cases are funding Virginia Thomas' salary.

Thomas has long been active in conservative political causes. She was a top aide to former Rep. Dick Armey of Texas when he served as house Republican leader. And in 2000, while Bush v. Gore was before the Supreme Court, she was working for the conservative Heritage Foundation helping to recruit staff for a possible Bush administration.

Conservatives have long pointed out that there are other judges whose spouses hold political positions — for example, the wife of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, is a federal appeals court judge. Judge Marjorie Rendell recuses herself from cases involving her husband's administration, but she can be easily replaced by another judge in those cases. In contrast, when a Supreme Court justice recuses himself, there are no stand-ins. The court is left with only eight justices sitting.

While the Supreme Court routinely stays mum about these matters, the justices can make quite clear to a colleague that they think that he or she needs to deal with a question that is casting a cloud of doubt on the court's integrity. Virginia Thomas' decision to step down from the top job at Liberty Central suggests, at the very least, that there may have been some internal pressure on Justice Thomas at the court over her very visible political role.

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