Keith Olbermann Calls for Justice Clarence Thomas to Resign

Keith Olbermann on Wednesday called for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to resign.

His complaint?

Thomas's wife Virginia runs a political organization called Liberty Central which at this point has not revealed who its donors are. 

"She is a living, breathing, appearance of a conflict of interest," whined Olbermann during Wednesday's "Countdown."

"Either she must reveal the names of her donors and everyone employed by, affiliated with or donating to or donated to by Liberty Central, or Justice Thomas must resign from the Supreme Court" (video follows with transcript and commentary):

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Then there is Washington, D.C. Tea Partier Virginia "Ginny" Thomas. She has the usual stuff, a blind hatred of the president, paranoid use of the word tyranny, endorsing knee jerk candidates, her own little group of Neanderthals called Liberty Central. It's more financially successful than most. "Politico" now reports she has only two donors, one for 50 grand and one for a whopping 500 grand. But otherwise, Mrs. Thomas' story is the usual reactionary tripe.

It is her right to be wrong and we must protect it. Virginia "Ginny" Thomas is the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. This probably is really, really obvious. The wife of a Supreme Court justice is soliciting donations to a political organization. The donors are anonymous and one paid her half a million bucks. Even if she tried not to, she cannot help but stand out from a crowd of yelping Tea Partiers because of her husband‘s name and position. She is a living, breathing, appearance of a conflict of interest.

The remedies are just as obvious. Either she must reveal the names of her donors and everyone employed by, affiliated with or donating to or donated to by Liberty Central, or Justice Thomas must resign from the Supreme Court. Otherwise, every verdict he renders will have to be assumed to be the result of influence peddling, and whatever effectiveness he has on the court will be reduced to a pathetic joke.  

Before we get to the heart of the matter, isn't it marvelous how a cable news anchor shows such disrespect to the wife of a Supreme Court justice? 

"She has the usual stuff, a blind hatred of the president, paranoid use of the word tyranny, endorsing knee jerk candidates, her own little group of Neanderthals called Liberty Central...But otherwise, Mrs. Thomas' story is the usual reactionary tripe."

Is this REALLY what the wife of a Supreme Court justice deserves just because she has different political beliefs than a television personality? 

As to the substance of Olbermann's complaint, every verdict Thomas renders will have to be assumed to be the result of influence peddling? Not just the ones that might actually involve donors to his wife's organization?

That seems absurdly sweeping even for the typically absurdly sweeping "Countdown" host. If he and his staff had done the slightest bit of research, they would have uncovered what the Los Angeles Times reported on March 14 concerning this matter:

"I think the American public expects the justices to be out of politics," said University of Texas law school professor Lucas A. "Scot" Powe, a court historian.

He said the expectations for spouses are far less clear. "I really don't know because we've never seen it," Powe said.

Under judicial rules, judges must curb political activity, but a spouse is free to engage. [...]

As in her appearance at the panel discussion, the website does not mention Clarence Thomas.

The judicial code of conduct does require judges to separate themselves from their spouses' political activity. As a result, Marjorie Rendell, a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has stayed away from political events, campaign rallies and debates in Pennsylvania. Her husband discussed such issues in his first campaign for governor.

Since then, Judge Rendell has sought the opinion of the judiciary's Committee on Codes of Conduct when a case presents a possible conflict of interest involving her husband's political office, she said.

And what about this specific situation?

Law professor Gillers said that Justice Thomas, too, should be on alert for possible conflicts, particularly those involving donors to his wife's nonprofit.

"There is opportunity for mischief if a company with a case before the court, or which it wants the court to accept, makes a substantial contribution to Liberty Central in the interim," he said.

Justice Thomas would be required to be aware of such contributions, Gillers said, adding that he believes Thomas should then disclose those facts and allow parties in the case to argue for recusal.

But it would be up to Justice Thomas to decide whether to recuse himself.

As such, despite Olbermann's blathering, the only potential conflict here would be if the Supreme Court heard a case involving a donor to Liberty Central. At that point, there are procedures in place to deal with it.

After all, in the many centuries we've had a Supreme Court, this isn't the first time a justice's spouse was involved in politics.

If Olbermann and his staff had actually read the entire Politico piece he referred to in this report, he may have been far better informed on this subject:

Neither a Liberty Central official, nor a Supreme Court spokeswoman would say whether the group would disclose the names of its donors to the Supreme Court legal office or to Thomas's husband so he can avoid ruling on cases in which a major Liberty Central donor is a party.

"Liberty Central has been run past the Supreme Court ethics office and they found that the organization meets all ethics standards," [policy director and general counsel Sarah] Field said. "As she has throughout her 30-year history in the policy community, Ginni will address any potential conflicts on a case-by-case basis."

As Ginni Thomas has begun to emerge as a high-profile political player in her own right, friends and allies say has bristled at the focus on her husband, and questions about whether her involvement with Liberty Central could compromise his impartiality.

The Thomases last faced conflict questions in 2000 when Ginni Thomas, then working for the conservative Heritage Foundation, solicited resumes for potential transition team members for George W. Bush, while Justice Thomas was part of the court majority that sided with Bush over Democratic rival Al Gore in the historic case of Bush v. Gore.

In fact, this is certainly not the first time Thomas has been politically active:

"In my experience working with her, people usually didn't know (she was married to Clarence Thomas), because she doesn't wear it on her sleeve," said Kibbe, who worked with Thomas at the right-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce while her husband was a federal appeals court judge rumored to be on then-President George H.W. Bush's shortlist for the Supreme Court.

After the Chamber, Ginni Thomas, who has a law degree, went on to work for the Labor Department under the Bush administration and later for then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a Texas Republican who now chairs Kibbe's group, as well as the Heritage Foundation, a pillar of the Washington conservative establishment. That was followed by the job as a Washington coordinator for Hillsdale College.

Thomas, who declined to be interviewed for this story and has mostly limited her media interaction to conservative outlets, explained to the Washington Examiner last month that she decided to start Liberty Central because she "realized I needed to get closer to the front lines, that there was a more short-term crisis - and that unless we have a big impact in November and again in 2012, we wouldn't recognize the country we're living in."

She also explained to the Examiner, "My favorite times are when people who have worked for me for over 10 years come to understand only later that I am the wife of Justice Thomas."

Taking this a step further:

Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg told POLITICO that "Mrs. Thomas had reviewed her involvement (in Liberty Central) with the Supreme Court legal office." But Arberg would not say whether Clarence Thomas had participated in the discussion, nor whether Liberty Central had agreed to reveal its donors to him or the court's legal office.

As such, the Court's legal office is quite aware of the situation thereby making Olbermann's call for Thomas to step down if Virginia doesn't disclose her donors quite absurd.

Alas, that's par for the course for MSNBC's prime time clown who predictably makes hyperbolic fulminations without facts to support them.

His hero Edward R. Murrow must be so proud. 

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.