New conflict-of-interest questions raised about wife of Justice Clarence Thomas

But bigger problem is Supreme Court has no way to address them

Mother Jones is out with a new story today about a group of prominent conservatives, including the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, meeting weekly to plan a “30-front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation,” according to documents obtained by the magazine.

The group calls itself “Groundswell” and meets weekly, like many other groups that strategize in Washington. But this story is notable for the conflict-of-interest questions it raises around Thomas’ wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas.

“At its weekly meetings, the group aims to strengthen the right’s messaging by crafting Twitter hashtags; plotting strategy on in-the-headlines issues such as voter ID, immigration reform, and the sequester; promoting politically useful scandals; and developing “action items.”

Not all those issues have or will come before the Supreme Court. And spouses of elected officials and prominent Washingtonians are entitled to professional lives of their own.

But the problem here is that there is no way to resolve or address some of the questions that David Corn raises about Ginny Thomas since the Supreme Court has no binding code of ethics, no rules for handling such thorny issues.

Common Cause for the last several years has been urging the Supreme Court to create an ethics code. There is plenty of evidence it’s needed. Common Cause argued a few years ago that Justice Thomas had a conflict of interest when he participated in the Citizens United case because Ginni Thomas at that time was running a conservative nonprofit fighting the “tyranny” of President Obama that directly benefited from removing limits on corporate and union spending on politics. That was clearer cut because Ginni benefited financially from the Citizens United decision.

It’s not just the Thomases raising questions. Justice Antonin Scalia has spoken at a number of political gatherings when judges are not supposed to participate in political events. In fact, Charles and David Koch boasted that Scalia attended one of their now-famous political strategy sessions in the California desert.

These questions deserve answers, and the Supreme Court should have a way to handle them.

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