Patterico's Pontifications

3/14/2010

Sauce for the Goose . . .

Filed under: Dog Trainer,Judiciary — Jack Dunphy @ 12:02 pm

In Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, writer Kathleen Hennessey informs us that Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has founded a “tea party” group. As anyone familiar with the Los Angeles Times might expect, Hennessey points out the potential for conflicts of interest inherent in having the spouse of a Supreme Court justice involved in conservative politics, and to that end she quotes two legal experts:

“I think the American public expects the justices to be out of politics,” said University of Texas law school professor Lucas A. “Scot” Powe, a court historian.

He said the expectations for spouses are far less clear. “I really don’t know because we’ve never seen it,” Powe said.

Under judicial rules, judges must curb political activity, but a spouse is free to engage.

“We expect the justice to make decisions uninfluenced by the political or legal preferences of his or her spouse,” said New York University law professor Stephen Gillers, an expert on legal ethics.

All well and good. Parties before the Court have the right to an impartial hearing, and it’s only proper for the Times to report on a matter that may give rise to questions about any justice’s potential for bias. But I was curious to know if the Times’s concern for the political activities of judges’ spouses extended to those on the lower courts.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is, according to the Los Angeles Times, “one of the most liberal federal judges in the nation, a jurist who rules as he sees fit even if he knows the Supreme Court will certainly overturn him.” Reinhardt is married to Ramona Ripston, longtime head of the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Given that the ACLU is often a litigant in cases that come before the Ninth Circuit, I sifted through the paper’s archives in search of any stories expressing similar worries. Perhaps the technology failed me, but I searched in vain for any articles reflecting a similarly tut-tut-ing attitude about the potential for Reinhardt’s jurisprudence being influenced by his wife. In those articles in which both Reinhardt and Ripston were mentioned, their relationship was merely noted as a biographical detail. The potential for conflict of interest went unremarked upon.

Perhaps the L.A. Times’s worries over potential conflicts of interest are indeed limited to the Supreme Court, and this is why they seem to have found the Reinhardt-Ripston relationship untroubling. Then again, perhaps there is another reason.

–Jack Dunphy

36 Comments

  1. I wonder if ace journalist Kathleen Hennessey expressed any reservations about Justice Ginsburg’s pre-SC gig activism or her odd comments regarding abortion: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/damianthompson/100002972/what-the-hell-did-ruth-bader-ginsburg-mean-when-she-linked-abortion-and-eugenics/ as a sitting Justice on the SCOTUS?

    I somehow doubt it, but I could be wrong…

    Comment by GeneralMalaise (d63092) — 3/14/2010 @ 12:19 pm

  2. Since her husband has already been described as a traitor to his race and a veritable Uncle Tom to Scalia, you have to shudder at what kind of epithets will now be winging her way shortly.

    Comment by Dmac (ca1d8c) — 3/14/2010 @ 12:26 pm

  3. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg once attended a NOW meeting that was held to raise funds for an appeal pending before the Supreme Court.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy (3c3db0) — 3/14/2010 @ 12:30 pm

  4. Ginsberg here, too.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy (3c3db0) — 3/14/2010 @ 12:32 pm

  5. Jack, didn’t Reinhardt actually attend an oral argument before another Ninth Circuit panel involving an ACLU case?

    This is indeed just more hypocritical handwringing.

    Comment by SPQR (26be8b) — 3/14/2010 @ 12:46 pm

  6. Justice Ginsburg’s husband also advocates RE: tax policy, should Justice Ginsburg recuse herself from all matters that involve taxes? I bet liberals would love to lose her vote when health care and/or any issues that possibly might arise from it RE: taxes comes before the Supreme Court?

    Comment by Brad (6886e5) — 3/14/2010 @ 12:49 pm

  7. Hmmm, you know I could swear I read something about what I mentioned above …

    Comment by SPQR (26be8b) — 3/14/2010 @ 12:59 pm

  8. Pericles to Aspasia (his wife:

    Our infant son rules you.
    You rule me.
    I rule Athens.
    Athens rules the world.
    So be careful what orders you give me, because an infant should not have so much power. ;)

    Comment by nk not Pat Robertson (db4a41) — 3/14/2010 @ 1:19 pm

  9. Obama’s wife has a little group of her own which purports to exist only to bring attention to an obesity problem. However, a closer look shows that MEchelle has gotten cozy with the SEIU who look to gain more power in yet more cafeterias largely as a result of MEchelle having the ear of the president. Note the relationahip between the ‘obesity problem’ and the resulting solution – increased government regulation of cafeterias via the SEIU.

    Comment by Metallica (bb58d8) — 3/14/2010 @ 1:23 pm

  10. I am shocked, shocked, to find that you might think that the LAT, along with other segments of the MSM, might operate with a less than even-handed manner when it comes to the political activity of judicial spouses.
    For Shame!

    Hey, Jack! It’s Chinatown!

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS! (c1a42f) — 3/14/2010 @ 1:25 pm

  11. More than one empire, relatively long-lasting, saw the advantage of having it administered by eunuchs or government slaves (janissaries) without personal loyalties.

    Comment by nk the amateur historian (db4a41) — 3/14/2010 @ 1:27 pm

  12. “…‘obesity problem’ and the resulting solution – increased government regulation of cafeterias via the SEIU…”

    Interesting article in the “Briefly” column (A-16) in this morning’s OCRegister headlined:
    School lunches recipe for obesity“.
    1st Para:
    Students who regularly eat lunch provided by their schools are more likely to be overweight have higher levels of cholesterol than those who eat meals brought from home,
    a Michigan study found.”

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS! (c1a42f) — 3/14/2010 @ 1:31 pm

  13. “…overweight and have…”

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS! (c1a42f) — 3/14/2010 @ 1:32 pm

  14. Virginia Thomas has committed an unpardonable sin. She married a black man, stealing him away from his race. She gets no breaks.

    Comment by nk (db4a41) — 3/14/2010 @ 1:35 pm

  15. Of course I’m saying that Kathleen Hennessey is a racist with a head full of dog excrement.

    Comment by nk (db4a41) — 3/14/2010 @ 1:38 pm

  16. I’m sure she and Julianne Malveaux will have a lot to talk about.

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS! (c1a42f) — 3/14/2010 @ 1:42 pm

  17. it looks like i will unexpectedly be forced to denounce the lot of you as racists, which is an unprecedented event, brought on by the softening of the standards that govern such events.

    /Bingo!

    Comment by redc1c4 (fb8750) — 3/14/2010 @ 1:46 pm

  18. “We expect the justice to make decisions uninfluenced by the political or legal preferences of his or her spouse,” said New York University law professor Stephen Gillers, an expert on legal ethics.

    We might expect it, or hope for it, but the fact is that everyone has presuppositions and philosophies that influence their views and these influences often come from those we most closely confide and converse with: spouses. It would seem impossible to fully shut out those influences or discount them.

    Also, I understand that Reinhardt has been known to recuse himself when ACLU cases come before the court, so why wouldn’t we have the same expectation of Justice Thomas to behave as conscientiously? Or does the LAT think less of him and his integrity…because that would seem rather racist, no?

    Comment by Dana (1e5ad4) — 3/14/2010 @ 2:00 pm

  19. Reinhardt has to recuse himself at times because he has to ultimately answer to the Supremes, who only have to worry about public opinion, which they can – and have – thumbed their noses to.

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS! (c1a42f) — 3/14/2010 @ 2:06 pm

  20. Virginia Thomas has committed an unpardonable sin. She married a black man, stealing him away from his race. She gets no breaks.

    It’s worse than that. Virginia Thomas, a white woman, snared the love of a black man, perpetuating the myth that black women are inferior to white women, even to black men.

    Who was that liberal asshole back in the 1990s who said that she wished that Justice Thomas’ wife would feed him lots of red meat and cholesterol so he’d die at a young age of heart disease, “like so many black men”? Didn’t she know Virginia Thomas is white? Incitement to a hate crime!

    Comment by skwiself (b69230) — 3/14/2010 @ 2:23 pm

  21. Any volunteers for the eunuch idea floated out there in comment #11?

    I’m kinda busy right now…

    Comment by Steve G (909b57) — 3/14/2010 @ 2:25 pm

  22. “Who was that liberal asshole back in the 1990s who said that she wished that Justice Thomas’ wife would feed him lots of red meat and cholesterol so he’d die at a young age of heart disease, “like so many black men”? Didn’t she know Virginia Thomas is white? Incitement to a hate crime!”

    Comment by skwiself

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Although the ranks of said liberals are swelled to near-breaking point, that would be Julianne Malveaux, I do believe.

    Comment by GeneralMalaise (d63092) — 3/14/2010 @ 2:31 pm

  23. Julianne Malveaux looks like Sinbad in drag.

    Comment by GeneralMalaise (d63092) — 3/14/2010 @ 2:32 pm

  24. No! I’ve seen Sinbad in drag.
    He looks better!

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS! (c1a42f) — 3/14/2010 @ 2:34 pm

  25. #20,
    See #16 by AD.

    Comment by Machinist (9780ec) — 3/14/2010 @ 2:34 pm

  26. Justice Potter Stewart’s wife reportedly volunteered for Planned Parenthood. If that’s true, it didn’t bother the LA Times nor did it stop Justice Stewart from deciding cases involving Planned Parenthood, and I don’t see why it should.

    Comment by DRJ (daa62a) — 3/14/2010 @ 2:38 pm

  27. This is just more of the same from a Leftist:
    Painting broad strokes with a $hit-brush!

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS! (c1a42f) — 3/14/2010 @ 2:44 pm

  28. Given that the Times shares the ideology of Reinhardt and Ripston, why would anyone expect the Times to point out questionable behavior by them? How could the Times be expected to recognize such behavior as less than commendable? Their job is to advance the cause of liberalism. Period.

    Comment by mhr (699676) — 3/14/2010 @ 3:10 pm

  29. Personally, I hope Ms. Malveaux lives to be 100–and swallowing rage with her last breath as she realizes Justice Thomas has outlived her.

    Comment by M. Scott Eiland (c552ec) — 3/14/2010 @ 3:29 pm

  30. The LA Times has already tipped its hat to an onslaught of puff stories on the upcoming retirement of Ripston. Get your paper bags ready.

    Comment by Alta Bob (e8af2b) — 3/14/2010 @ 5:44 pm

  31. I don’t believe in coincidences. The timing of Chief Justice Roberts’ shot over the bow last week coupled with Thomas’ wife’s tea party bid and Alitos’ mouthing of “Not true” at the SOTU speech seems to be a not-so-subtle warning to BHO regarding the constitionality of Obama’s strategy.

    Arguably, SCOTUS is signaling their displeasure with Obama’s trip plan on his road to the tyranny of messiahnism. Can you feel the power coming down? The battle lines are firming up…

    Comment by vet66 (9d1bb3) — 3/15/2010 @ 7:06 am

  32. Jack oh Jack! Your expecting evenhandedness in reporting from the Lost Angeles Times is like Elizabeth Taylor getting married for the 5th or 6th time. It’s simply evidence of hope over experience.

    Comment by Mike Myers (3c9845) — 3/15/2010 @ 7:55 am

  33. Here’s the LA Times report on Ginsburg (herself! Not her husband) participating in a NOW Legal Defense Fund event in 2004.

    Comment by MayBee (8abc2e) — 3/15/2010 @ 8:49 am

  34. So we are supposed to completely disregard the DOJ lawyers who defended Gitmo detainees and instead pay attention to Thomas’s wife????

    Comment by MayBee (8abc2e) — 3/15/2010 @ 9:00 am

  35. Yes, MayBee. That is exactly right. Now you are catching on ;-)

    Comment by JD (cd165f) — 3/15/2010 @ 9:06 am

  36. The problem of spousal conflicts for the judiciary is actually quite serious. I have personally come across multiple instances where a judge’s spouse has a financial interest in the outcome of a case but the judge refuses to recuse himself or herself.

    Judges are allowed to take general positions on political and legal questions; the Seventh Circuit’s Judge Posner has written multiple books on various legal and policy issues. However, they are not allowed to comment on specific ongoing cases, or put themselves in a position to financially benefit from advocacy concerning, or the outcome of, a case and still rule on it. The same rules apply if it is the spouse who is involved in the political or advocacy activities. Ripston made money from running an advocacy group, so Reinhardt had to recuse himself from all ACLU involved cases.

    The question as to Virginia Thomas is not whether she is taking a general political position–that’s perfectly legal–but whether she is making money in so doing. If she is not making money from her “Tea Party” group and that group does not appear in a case, Justice Thomas need not recuse himself from anything. If she is making any money from the group, recusal becomes a possibility.

    Comment by Cyrus Sanai (311cd8) — 3/15/2010 @ 9:54 am

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