Who’s Afraid of Ginni Thomas?

The Thomases
SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginni Thomas. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Tina Nguyen
July 6, 2022

Clarence Thomas, the perpetually dour Supreme Court justice whose reactionary opinions have recently inflamed the nation, has a reputation, ironically enough, as the most taciturn member of the court. Even before SCOTUS’s political center lurched to the right with the addition of three Trump-appointed justices, Thomas rarely spoke during oral arguments, once going nearly 10 years without asking a single question from the bench, preferring to let his writing speak for itself.

Thomas’s inscrutability is just one of the many reasons that media attention has fixed on his wife, Ginni Thomas, an avid Facebooker, vocal election truther, and active conservative organizer who has no problems making her political opinions known. On March 11, for example, she reposted an article from author and former Trump administration lawyer Mark Paoletta, praising his “powerful rebuttal to the corporate media attacks” urging her husband to recuse himself from cases because, as she said, “I have views in the public square.” 

It’s a common charge she’s faced over the past several decades. Indeed, from the moment she became a serious romantic match with Thomas, a young law school graduate when they met in 1986, Ginni has been known as a “defend your man” sort of Republican, as the Daily Beast’s Jacob Bernstein once put it, albeit with a healthy professional life in conservative circles of her own. A former aide to Reps. Hal Daub and Dick Armey, Ginni Thomas was in many ways a firmament-style Republican. She worked in the Labor Department and at the Heritage Foundation, and founded her own nonprofit lobbying and consulting groups (Liberty Central and Liberty Consulting, respectively). Meanwhile, as her stature amplified, Thomas was frequently accused of influencing her husband’s judicial rulings in a more conservative direction.

But her sway may have been overstated. After all, her influence waxed and waned with various administrations, as happens in Washington. Groundswell, a group she founded along with Steve Bannon and which includes members like Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton and former Senate Judiciary staffer Barbara Ledeen, has been considered an alternate and ever so slightly more nativist version of the Grover Norquist activist class. She was considered an outsider even among Republican circles during the Obama years, when she began gravitating towards the Tea Party. And even in the nativist Trump administration, Ginni’s influence was minimal at best, with one former administration official rating her usefulness a “5 out of 10” on issues like judicial confirmations.

Washington is filled with innumerable mutually ambitious image-conscious couples—the Bradleys, the Conways, the Jivankas, the Clintons. In some ways, the Thomases are little different. But Ginni’s activism has sparked a public suspicion that she reflects her husband’s own private views. This emerged when she famously lobbied on behalf of numerous corporations in Citizens United, which allowed corporations to spend money promoting political speech. Groundswell also lobbied the White House to change its personnel in a series of memos initially reported on by Jonathan Swan at Axios.

In the past several months, her oddly conspiratorial role leading up to the January 6th insurrection has opened her marriage up to a whole new level of scrutiny. Her communications with lawyer John Eastman, and alarming texts to Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows suggesting that they “release the Kraken”—a reference to an outre conspiracy theory about a tranche of uncounted votes—seemed uncouth coming from a former Heritage Foundation representative, and absolutely batshit crazy coming from the wife of a Justice who might have had to rule on the election’s veracity. Ginni Thomas is now being asked to appear before the January 6th Committee, which she and her lawyer (unsurprisingly, it’s Paoletta) are resisting. “Before I can recommend that she meet with you, I am asking the Committee to provide a better justification for why Mrs. Thomas’s testimony is relevant to the Committee’s legislative purpose,” he recently wrote.” (Paoletta did not respond to a request for comment.) 

That said, it wasn’t as if Ginni hesitated out of decorum or lack of will. On May 27, less than a month after Politico published a draft opinion of a decision repealing Roe, Ginni posted photos outside her house of what could best be described as a miniature MAGA rally: “Heard the left was planning to protest at our house so some friends decided to counter protest!” There were people with the “Don’t Tread On Me” snake flag, a woman wearing a “Let’s Go Brandon” hat, and a sign that called her “Justice Ginni Thomas.” 

The “Base of Support”

From the outside, it’s easy to look at the marriage of Ginni and Clarence Thomas and perceive an egregious breach of civic trust: a judge, in the public imagination, should exist beyond the grubby realm of politics and activism. A Supreme Court justice, especially, should be elevated above the world of advocacy. 

And perhaps it may be. But inside the activist wing of the Republican party, which increasingly looks like a photo negative of Washington politics, they’re regarded as separate entities: definitionally a couple in a power marriage, but treated as influential in their own individual ways, and independently of each other. “See, most people are like ‘Oh, Ginni Thomas is the wife of Clarence Thomas.’ Well, no shit,” said one conservative activist who’s been in the movement for decades. “But she has created her own little base of support related to, and kind of capitalizing, on her marriage to Justice Thomas.” 

As he put it, Groundswell was her calling card to the White House. Whatever benefits her famous spouse had procured for her, she was now her own person with her own base of power, thanks to big-in-MAGA-world professional alliances with people like Fitton and Frank Gaffney. “When she was calling the White House during the Trump years and getting meetings, she wouldn’t say, Oh, I’m Ginni Thomas, wife of Justice Thomas. She would say, Oh, I’m Ginni Thomas, with Groundswell. The Groundswell people want to come in.”

The activist also pointed out that the Thomases’ politics aren’t actually as overlapping as they appear on big-tent firebrand issues like reproductive rights. Although Clarence Thomas’s rulings certainly sound particularly MAGA these days, his positions mostly trace an older lineage of judicial philosophy, dating back decades, which is jurisprudentially distinct from his new Trump-appointed colleagues, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—the real “MAGA justices,” as the activist put it. “Thomas has been a known quantity. He’s been probably the most conservative justice on the court, probably continues to be,” this person told me. “So I don’t think there’s any change there, on him. What it does affect is just the credibility—his credibility and the court’s credibility.”

Indeed, on the surface, Ginni occupies a rare overlapping gray zone between two spheres of D.C. society that otherwise barely touch: she is a member of a longstanding Republican establishment who also holds Ultra MAGA street cred. But if you consider her involvement in the politics that spawned the Tea Party—at its core, an anti-government movement that took a symbol of patriotic protest from the Founding era as its namesake—her politics make more sense. The conservative activist instinct to reverse engineer originalist interpretations of law to fit some desired outcome goes some way toward explaining her radical maneuvering to keep Trump in office. 

Whether those efforts amounted to anything, or were largely peripheral to the larger drama surrounding Jan. 6, is the sort of open-ended question that only Congressional investigators may be able to answer. We now know, for instance, that the texts she exchanged with Meadows about the “Kraken” lawsuits pertained to alleged evidence that was, in fact, riddled with obvious errors and garbled logic. (In other texts, Meadows encouraged Thomas to “not grow weary” in the “fight of good versus evil”—to which Thomas replied, “Thank you!! Needed that!”) In this light, Thomas was, perhaps, a kooky firebrand rather than a violent insurrectionist with the power and stature to successfully strong-arm Mike Pence into breaking the law. “When folks are like, Oh, she was part of this orchestrated effort as part of January 6, it’s kind of a stretch. Because she wasn’t a trusted person,” the activist argued. “Was she a cheerleader for it? Absolutely. Does she continue to perpetuate the election was stolen myth? Yes, absolutely. But was she an integral player, or insider? Hardly.”

Barring any new revelations from the Jan. 6 committee, that discovery process might end up illustrating Ginni’s true role in American politics: the fringe’s biggest, most annoying hype man. “I don’t see her as believing in conspiracies, but I do believe she is just one of those all-in team players,” one conservative eminence added. And what is a conspiracy theory, really, if not a very intensely applied, detached-from-reality viewpoint of how the world should work?

It’s unclear how much Ginni’s current role as MAGA’s biggest conspiracy hype woman will impact her husband’s rulings on a supermajority conservative court. Don’t count on that becoming clear anytime soon, however: no one’s been able to provide a satisfactory answer to their marital dynamic since Thomas ascended to the Supreme Court 32 years ago. But what is certain is that the more critics train their sights on Ginni, the less likely she will back down from her wine-mom activism. This is a woman, after all, who waited 19 years before leaving a voicemail on Anita Hill’s phone demanding that she apologize for her testimony criticizing her husband, evidencing a characteristic tension between triumphalism and victimhood. Just days after the official Roe reversal dropped, Ginni, in the midst of celebrating her husbands’ clerks and the resurgence of pro-life policies, told her followers that her Instagram had been hacked. “Add this to a laundry list of various types of attacks,” she wrote, trailing off: “…whatever.”