'No Mention of Ginni': Judicial activist directed consulting payment to wife of Justice Thomas
Conservative activist Virginia “Ginni” Thomas walks during a break in a voluntary interview Sept. 29, 2022, in Washington, D.C., with the House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press.
Leonard Leo, the former executive vice president of the Federalist Society, directed a Republican polling company to pay the wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas “another $25K” for consulting work in 2012 and to bill a nonprofit organization for reimbursement, according to a document reviewed by the Washington Post.
Leo, an adviser to the Judicial Education Project, a nonprofit organization, is co-chairman and former executive vice president of the conservative Federalist Society. He reportedly helped develop a Supreme Court short list for former President Donald Trump.
The polling company, then run by Kellyanne Conway—a former Trump presidential adviser—paid the Ginni Thomas company Liberty Consulting $80,000 between June 2011 and June 2012 and expected to pay it another $20,000 later in 2012, according to the Washington Post.
A predecessor nonprofit founded by Ginni Thomas—Liberty Central—had received a $500,000 donation from Harlan Crow, according to a 2011 report by Politico. Crow is a billionaire Republican megadonor who treated the Thomases to luxury travel, purchased property in which the justice had an interest, and paid private school tuition for Justice Thomas’ grandnephew.
The Washington Post previously reported that Leo “is the maestro of a network of interlocking nonprofits working on media campaigns and other initiatives to sway lawmakers by generating public support for conservative judges.” One of the groups that he chairs, the Marble Freedom Trust, received $1.6 billion from a Chicago businessman in 2020.
The Judicial Education Project submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in December 2012 in a challenge to preclearance requirements in the Voting Rights Act. Justice Thomas’ concurring opinion embraced the outcome favored by the project and several other conservative groups.
According to the Washington Post, legal ethics experts disagreed on whether Thomas should have recused based on the financial arrangement.
But the arrangement “shows that current ethics rules and disclosure requirements fail to protect public confidence in the independence of the courts,” the Washington Post said. “For example, although justices must report the name of companies that pay their spouses, they are not required to report the names of the companies’ clients. In this case, even if there were such a requirement, it is not clear that the Judicial Education Project would have been listed as a client, because the fees intended for Ginni Thomas were to go through Conway.”
Leo defended the arrangement in a statement to the Washington Post.
“It is no secret that Ginni Thomas has a long history of working on issues within the conservative movement, and part of that work has involved gauging public attitudes and sentiment. The work she did here did not involve anything connected with either the court’s business or with other legal issues,” Leo said.
Leo said he didn’t want Ginni Thomas’ name on the paperwork because he knows “how disrespectful, malicious and gossipy people can be.”
“I have known Clarence and Ginni Thomas since 1990,” Leo said. “They are dear friends and are people of tremendous good will and integrity. Anybody who thinks that Justice Thomas is influenced in his work by what others say or do, including his wife Ginni, is completely ignorant of who this man is and what he stands for. And anybody who thinks Ginni Thomas would seek to influence the Supreme Court’s work is completely ignorant of the respect she has for her husband and the important role that he and his colleagues play in our society.”