Virginia “Ginni” Thomas’ attendance at the January 6, 2021, rally that preceded the violent attack on the US Capitol has touched off a series of questions about the connection between her activism and the work of her husband, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Thomas told The Washington Free Beacon that while she had attended the “Stop the Steal” rally, she had not helped organize it and she had left before things turned violent.
Still, her presence on the Ellipse has brought a wave of scrutiny to her activism and how the Supreme Court approaches questions of potential conflicts of interest.
Here’s what you need to know:
What did Thomas say about her role in the rally?
While Thomas acknowledged attending the event, she insisted that she had played “no role with those who were planning and leading the Jan. 6 events.”
“There are stories in the press suggesting I paid or arranged for buses. I did not. There are other stories saying I mediated feuding factions of leaders for that day. I did not,” Thomas told The Washington Free Beacon.
Her comments follow an extensive New York Times Magazine profile in which conservative activist Dustin Stockton said he was told that Thomas was a mediator between competing camps of rally organizers, “so that there wouldn’t be any division around January 6.”
“The way it was presented to me was that Ginni was uniting these different factions around a singular mission on January 6,” Stockton told the Times. “That Ginni was involved made sense – she’s pretty neutral, and she doesn’t have a lot of enemies in the movement.”
What did Thomas say about the violence that followed the rally?
“I was disappointed and frustrated that there was violence that happened following a peaceful gathering of Trump supporters on the Ellipse on Jan. 6,” Thomas told The Washington Free Beacon.
Social media posts obtained by Slate show her cheering on the January 6 rally that preceded the Capitol attack, though she later made clear, according to the outlet, that she had published the posts before the rally turned violent.
Do Thomas’ actions amount to a conflict of interest for her husband?
It depends on who you ask.
Progressives and some legal ethics experts see a potential conflict with Thomas’ activism and her husband’s work on the Supreme Court. “Federal recusal law says that any justice ‘shall disqualify’ if their impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” said Gabe Roth of Fix the Court, a group seeking more transparency from Supreme Court justices.
“Here Virginia Thomas attended the rally on the Ellipse, she is close to those who have been subpoenaed by the committee and she is involved in several groups that have cast doubt on the results of the 2020 election,” he added.
What did Thomas say about her activism and her husband’s job?
In her Washington Free Beacon interview, Thomas said that “the legal lane is my husband’s,” and she seemed to distance herself from the January 6, 2021, events.
“Like so many married couples, we share many of the same ideals, principles, and aspirations for America,” Thomas told the Free Beacon.
“But we have our own separate careers, and our own ideas and opinions too,” she added. “Clarence doesn’t discuss his work with me, and I don’t involve him in my work.”
How does Supreme Court justice recusal work?
Supreme Court justices largely make their own decisions whether to recuse themselves from cases, acting cautiously because if they were to step away no other judges could take their places to rule.
Notably, Clarence Thomas did not recuse himself when the high court examined questions about the legitimacy of the House’s investigation into the Capitol attack in a case brought by former President Donald Trump seeking to block the release of his White House records.
While the high court allowed for the disclosure of the documents, Thomas publicly dissented.
Has Ginni Thomas’ activism prompted scrutiny before?
Yes. For years, she has shown few qualms about her public outspokenness and political ties, which critics say are undermining the public’s trust in the institution.
Whereas other justices’ spouses have pivoted their careers toward lower-profile roles once their partners took the bench, Thomas has remained on the front lines of various political fights, including some of the most contentious battles of the Trump era.
Thomas talked directly with Trump, for instance, according to a report in The New York Times, at a White House meeting where she spoke out about the aides the administration was hiring.
Will the January 6 revelations slow down Thomas’ activism?
Thomas, who runs a political consulting firm, stressed to The Washington Free Beacon that she is going to continue her role as a political activist.
After the rally, she signed a letter to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy urging the Republican conference to remove GOP Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois due to their “egregious actions” as members of the House of Representatives’ select committee investigating the insurrection. Cheney and Kinzinger are serving at the request of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.
“If you are going to be true to yourself and your professional calling, you can never be intimidated, chilled or censored by what the press or others say,” Thomas said in the interview.
CNN’s Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.