Clarence Thomas’s wife believes a lot of the same things that QAnon supporters believe. In texts sent to Donald Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, in the lead-up to the January 6, 2021, insurrection, Virginia Thomas, who goes by “Ginni,” urged him to keep fighting the results of a lawful and legitimate election. She couldn’t wait for Trump’s legal team to “release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down,” she texted.
In another, she referenced conspiracy theories, writing that “watermarked ballots in over 12 states have been part of a huge Trump & military white hat sting operation in 12 key battleground states”—suggesting that the president send in the military to stop Democrats from stealing the election. In another, she quoted a popular pro-Trump message—“Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators (elected officials, bureaucrats, social media censorship mongers, fake stream media reporters, etc) are being arrested & detained for ballot fraud right now & over coming days, & will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition”—and then adding, “I hope this is true.”
The Supreme Court justice may appear himself in the trove of texts, which was first reported on by The Washington Post: in one, Ginni Thomas references a conversation with her “best friend,” who may very well be Clarence. In any case, Thomas is connected to the texts themselves. Earlier this year, he was the only Supreme Court Justice to vote against releasing Trump documents to the January 6 commission. His wife’s texts were provided to the commission earlier this year by Meadows, before he stopped cooperating.
That someone as well connected as Ginni Thomas—who, again, had access to the president’s chief of staff—holds such views is itself a huge news event. Thus far, this has largely been how the media has treated the story. The details are certainly attractively lurid: Ginni Thomas’s texts are essentially the Facebook posts of an especially brain-diseased boomer. Except, instead of just pestering your nephew Jaden with constant shitposting, she’s in the ear of someone with direct access to what was then the most powerful person in the world (who happens to be an even more brain-diseased boomer).
But this is also only part of the story. There’s a deeper problem that still hasn’t quite surfaced in the frenzied chronicling of Clarence Thomas’s QAnon wife: This is, ultimately, a story about corruption. Clarence Thomas never disclosed that his wife was sending dozens of texts to Meadows. He certainly did not disclose that his wife harbored deranged QAnon-ish beliefs that she’d been sharing with the White House’s chief of staff. Perhaps he didn’t know specific details about what his wife has been discussing with Trump’s inner circle. But he almost assuredly understood her affinity for Trump—and her participation in promulgating baseless conspiracy theories about a stolen election: Earlier this month, she admitted that she had attended Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally. (She stated that she left early, before things took their violent turn.)
To cover this story from the angle of corruption requires the press to take a different and more committed approach. The Supreme Court does not hold press conferences or otherwise endeavor to make itself publicly accountable; Thomas himself is very rarely interviewed and, for that matter, was only just released from the hospital on Friday after a week spent battling an infection. He did not provide any explanation as to why he chose to vote against the release of the Trump January 6 documents. Supreme Court justices are often inscrutable and press averse. While Thomas is one of the most influential Supreme Court justices in recent memory, he is also more inscrutable and press averse than most. He also has a thin veneer of deniability: He is not his wife, after all, and may not be privy to all of her activities—though she has long been knit up in the larger conservative movement to an extent that stands out from other spouses of Supreme Court justices, as my colleague Matt Ford explained.
Early defenses of Justice Thomas from the right have hinged on that veneer of deniability: that whatever else you might suspect, Clarence Thomas did nothing wrong. But that’s about the extent of what’s bubbled up in right-wing media over the past 24 hours; the story has simply not received a lot of play. Ironically, that conservative media has treated it in this way is perhaps a good indication of just how salacious and radioactive it is. One can certainly imagine the uproar on the right if the husband of Ketanji Brown Jackson had made similar statements—or even less controversial ones.
But the story won’t disappear anytime soon. The January 6 commission is still hard at work, and more documents will undoubtedly come out in the coming weeks and months. There’s little doubt that Ginni Thomas’s exchanges with Meadows have attracted its attention. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, may face another case relating to January 6 in the coming weeks: Eastman v. Thompson, in which John Eastman, a right-wing lawyer who worked for Donald Trump, argues that his records are subject to attorney-client privilege. Assuming that Thomas is healthy enough after his recent hospitalization to rejoin the high court, if he doesn’t recuse himself from that case, there will undoubtedly be an uproar, whatever the outcome. If he does, it would of course raise the question of why Thomas didn’t recuse himself in the two previous January 6 cases he has heard.
This is ultimately the question at the center of this story, and we won’t know the answer until Thomas himself deigns to answer it. Remember, there aren’t jurisprudence cops policing the justices and their activities; there are no enforcement mechanisms that govern their behavior—it is left to the justices themselves to behave honorably. If the members of the court don’t act in the interests of the court’s own legitimacy, it largely falls to the media to step in and keep the public properly informed. No, cable news is not going to affect the impeachment of Clarence Thomas; no hot take is going to stem the bleeding. But Ginni Thomas’s actions are damning for her, her husband, and the institution on which he serves. This is more than a tabloid-ready story about QAnon—it’s a story of corruption. If no one else will act in the public interest, the press must.