The recent announcement that Virginia Thomas, the wife of Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is wading into the conservative brew of the tea party movement has many within those ranks excited.
Thomas’ lobbying group, Liberty Central was formed in January to “serve the big tent of the conservative movement,” according to its Web site. It has already received the support of several high-profile conservative leaders. On the group’s Web site, it features a message from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
“Ginni can help channel the frustration felt by millions across America at the current course of our country,” said Rumsfeld. “Leaders committed to smaller government, fiscal prudence, and a strong national defense will be returning to Washington, D.C., and I am confident that Ginni Thomas will be part of the reason it will happen.”
Thomas attended a rally denouncing the House of Representatives’ health care reform bill and is scheduled to attend another rally in Atlanta on April 15.
Several local tea party leaders said Thomas’ involvement gives the movement a stamp of legitimacy.
“Of course [her involvement] helps,” said Tony Passaro, organizer of the Federation of Maryland Tea Party Patriots. “As the wife of a Supreme Court justice she has a lot of visibility. Her involvement increases the visibility of the whole movement.”
Ron Wilcox, head of the Alexandria Tea Party in Virginia, agreed with Passaro as he excitedly spoke about her involvement.
“This is wonderful. I’m delighted that she’ll be doing such a thing,” Wilcox said. “It is one of the number of steps that has come forward that has advanced the credibility and the viability of the tea party movement.”
There is a sentiment, however, that her move is a further setback for Clarence Thomas in the eyes of many African Americans.
Clarence Thomas’ conservative past and involvement in the Anita Hill scandal has always been a source of controversy within the African-American community. Some say this may be the icing on the cake.
“[Clarence Thomas] is already alienated from the Black community and I don’t know how much further he can get,” said Ronald Walters, director of the African American Leadership Center, and professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland College Park. “His wife played a very early role in his confirmation so this is really not surprising to me.”
Walters added that it is a little unnerving that that the wife of a Supreme Court Justice is joining this movement given the “vicious conservatism” he believes dogs the tea party movement. Given the Thomases’ contacts within the Republican Party, he thinks it could be part of a Republican strategy to gain more support.
“There’s an attempt on the part of the Republican Party to incorporate the tea party movement,” said Walters. “It’s possible that she’s becoming involved in that effort.”
However, members of the movement dismiss that concern as they believe she’s just expressing her rights as a U.S. citizen.
“She has every right to express her political opinion,” said Wilcox. “She’s not a Supreme Court Justice.
“People have their own interests and want to advance them. She shouldn’t be hobbled by her husband’s profession.”