Wednesday, October 20, 2010

She's Just Not That Into Him...

In a seeming bizarre twist to the nearly twenty year old newsworthy event where Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas, of sexual harassment [sparking a national debate about sexual harassment in the workplace] during his tense confirmation hearings, the wife of Justice Thomas - Virginia Lamp Thomas - is seeking an apology from Ms Hill. 

Okay, here's the background 411...

In 1991, then University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill - a one time aide to Thomas - accused Thomas of using inappropriate and sexually charged language with her and made advances that were unwelcomed.  Clarence Thomas denied the allegation calling them a "high tech lynching".  These allegations sparked the Senate Judiciary Committee to reopen confirmations for Thomas, who was nominated, by then President George Bush, as a judge on the Supreme Court.  Thomas was to fill the seat that was vacated by retired Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. forward to today...

In the wee hours on Saturday, October 9th - around 7:30am, Virginia Thomas, placed a voicemail to the Brandeis University office of Ms Hill asking her to make amends for her 1991 allegation against her husband.  Initially suspecting the message to a hoax of some sort and offended by the insinuation of the request, Ms Hill eventually turned the information over to campus police, who notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  According to Ms Thomas, the intent of the request was not to offend Ms Hill but to offer her an olive branch, "... in hopes that we could ultimately get past what happened so long ago". 

I must admit that upon hearing of this unsolicited [by Ms Hill's account] invitation, I am somewhat perplexed as to the 'real' motive behind this 'olive branch'.  Why, after two books - the first authored by Ms Hill ( "Speaking Truth to Power" 1998) and the second an autobiography by Mr Thomas ( “My Grandfather’s Son" 2007) does Ms Thomas feel the need to engage Ms Hill in a white flag waving dialogue?

         *side eye*

No stranger to conservative politics, Virgina Thomas has been quite visible over the last year in the political arena.  As the CEO and president of Liberty Central, as group that admits to being linked to the Tea Party, Virginia Thomas has publicly opposed - what she has labeled - the 'tyranny' of the Obama administration and congressional Democrats.  Liberty Central is said to have initially raised in excess of $500,000 and possibly much more since then...all from secret donors. All of which is legal under the Supreme Court's 2010 decision eliminating many of the prior limits on campaign spending. The question that arises surrounding her recent political actions pertains to a potential conflict of interest for her husband - Justice Thomas. 

The conflict-of- interest statute applies mainly to financial conflicts.  Legal ethics experts say that a spouse's political opinions do not matter because the law governs a justice's behavior, not the spouses.  Additionally, the conflict-of-interest law also counsels judges to avoid the appearance of conflict.  The law does not ascribe the views of one's spouse to the justice that s/he is married to.

Here's the proverbial 'fly in the soup' issue.  Liberty Central has fallen under the microscope mostly due to the unusual circumstance of  Virginia Thomas, a spouse of a sitting Supreme Court justice, receiving a salary, from an organization that is receiving large donations from anonymous opportunistic donors.  The question that it begs is, does this give a financial benefit to Justice Thomas thus constituting a financial conflict?

Is this 'innocent?' olive branch offerring a smoke screen?  Is it a feeble attempt to garner attention for the anti-Obama political group that she founded?  Or was she reacting to the front page appearance of the New York Times that discussed her affiliation with the Tea Party, her increasingly visible political role and the problems that they may or may not pose for her husband?  And, with the anonymity of generous donor, how will we know if a conflict exists?



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