Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife asked to have her name removed from a memo that called President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul “unconstitutional,” as she distanced herself from an issue that may come before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Virginia Thomas’s name appeared on the memo by mistake, according to a statement issued by Liberty Central, the nonprofit group she founded to support the Tea Party movement. The group that issued the memo has removed Thomas’s name, Liberty Central Chief Operating Officer Sarah Field said in the statement.
“Liberty Central assiduously avoids taking a position on the constitutionality of this, and other issues, and will continue to do so in the future,” Field said.
Thomas was in the news earlier this week after she telephoned Anita Hill, the woman whose sexual harassment allegations almost derailed Clarence Thomas’s 1991 high court nomination, and asked for an apology.
Liberty Central today also changed the attribution of a health-care position paper on its website and then removed it entirely. A “corrected” version of the article had been attributed to former New York Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey. It said the Constitution “does not permit” one aspect of the law. Liberty Central said it removed the article entirely “to eliminate any confusion or misinterpretation.”
The incidents underscore the balance Thomas may have to strike as she increases her political activism, touching on topics the Supreme Court could consider.
While judicial conflict-of-interest rules don’t cover her, she could undercut the court’s credibility by commenting on legal issues, said Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics specialist who teaches at New York University School of Law.
“Mrs. Thomas will surely cause concern if she takes a strong public position on legal issues that are likely to come before her husband,” Gillers said. “The public may believe that he cannot help but be influenced by her vocal and publicly expressed position.”
Even so, Gillers said, Justice Thomas would have no duty to step aside from a health-care case.
Lawsuits challenging the health-care law are moving toward the Supreme Court. Suits filed in Virginia, Florida and Michigan claim the measure exceeds Congress’s constitutional authority.
The memo that included Virginia Thomas’s name, along with those of 29 other small-government activists, calls on Congress to take 10 steps to cut spending. In advocating repeal of the health-care law, the memo states that “a clear majority of the American people have made it clear that they oppose this unconstitutional law that diminishes the quality of health care while increasing its cost.”
Virginia Thomas “did not review the memo,” Field said. “It was reviewed by staff who mistakenly signed off with her name on it.”
The memo, which appears on the website of the American Spectator magazine, was put together by the Conservative Action Project, an informal group of activists that meets on a regular basis to discuss policy issues.
The memo says that a repeal would “save taxpayers over $1 trillion.” The Congressional Budget Office has said the measure will cost $940 billion while more than offsetting that amount through tax increases and spending cuts.