Doubting the Thomases

As couples go, Clarence and Virginia Thomas already have done a great deal more than most family units to define the meaning of the Constitution. After all, Justice Clarence Thomas alone speaks for 35 million or so Americans each time he exercises his 1/9th proxy vote at the United States Supreme Court. And he has done so now for nearly two decades, shaping the rule of law each time he signs his name to a ruling, win or lose, concurrence or dissent.

But apparently the justice's front-row seat at the creation and interpretation of constitutional doctrine isn't good enough for his wife, "Ginny." Long a conservative activist (like her husband only more vocal), Ginny Thomas now is pledging to start her own "Tea Party" group to "get the Constitution back to a place where it means something." It's time to fight against "tyranny," she told a fellow activist at last month's Conservative Political Action Committee gathering. I've got nothing against Ginny Thomas' desire to hop on the "Tea Party" bandwagon now that it's rolling toward the 2010 elections. It's a free country and anyone who confesses in public to "listening carefully" to Glenn Beck probably was heading for Teapartydom anyway. But what a bizarre and provocative choice of words to describe her cause! And what an abdication of her identity as a Washington insider responsible (to some extent, anyway) for whatever mess she now seeks to criticizes!

What part of the Constitution does she believe no longer means anything? What role does she ascribe to the Supreme Court, and to her husband, in making this so? To what particular "place" would she like to bring the Constitution and who would she like to help her along the way? What part of our current constitutional structure does she believe is leading us toward "tyranny?" And just exactly how does she define that word, tyranny? The same way Thomas Jefferson did or the same way Justice Clarence Thomas now does? And who in official Establishment Washington really fears tyranny anyway?

These are now legitimate questions for the justice's better half, a government spouse who has just criticized her husband's co-workers in front of the whole world. She should answer those questions fully not just because the nation now has a right to know her mind on topics so closely connected to her husband's vital job. But because her answers will likely help us better understand the justice's mind as well. Does he see himself the same way, waging a mighty struggle each day against tyranny? Heroically striving with each ruling to keep the Constitution from dissolving into meaninglessness? Wouldn't you like to know these things about Justice Thomas?

I would. The Constitution Ginny Thomas decries belongs much more to her husband than it does to you or me or 300 million other Americans. In fact, it is fully 1/9th his after all these years. And so here's my offer. If she promises to answer those questions for me, I promise I will come over one day and have some tea at one of her parties. And maybe a few of those little sandwiches without the crust as well.

Presented by

Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Commentary Editor at The Marshall Project

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in National

Just In