The activism of prominent conservative Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has for years raised questions about partisan influence on the judicial system and ethics in the Supreme Court. American Oversight is actively investigating Ginni Thomas’ connections and influence in right-wing networks and their potential impact on Justice Thomas’ ethics decisions. Records we have obtained through public records requests reveal Ginni Thomas’ ties to the Trump administration as well as evidence of Justice Thomas’ contact with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
As detailed in a recent update, emails between Ginni Thomas and DeSantis, obtained by American Oversight and reported on by Politico, suggest that Justice Thomas may have been in regular contact with the Republican governor. On June 10, 2021, Ginni Thomas reached out to DeSantis’ scheduling office to invite him to speak to a “coalition” of “conservative patriots.” Thomas explained that the governor would know her because her “husband has been in contact with him … on various things of late.”
Ginni Thomas said the “cone of silence coalition” of “about 83 national leaders” was formerly known as Groundswell and included former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows among its attendees. The group, now called the Third Century Group (TC Group), was focused on “the greatest threats and opportunities to constitutional governance,” Thomas wrote in her email, “and admittedly we are weary about the GOP divisions, lack of courage and lack of leadership.” Thomas also wrote that the group met “through the help of [conservative organization] Judicial Watch.”
DeSantis was eventually scheduled to present during the group’s July 21 virtual meeting. According to an email from a vice president at the Heritage Foundation who was planning to introduce the governor at the meeting, DeSantis was invited to speak “about whatever is on his mind in terms of national politics” and the attendees were “very concerned about [critical race theory], election integrity and immigration.”
The Coalition Formerly Known as Groundswell
Formerly known as Groundswell, TC Group is a secretive right-wing strategy group led by Ginni Thomas and others, which has been bringing together conservative activists for nearly a decade. Members have included former Trump chief strategist Stephen Bannon and former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton, among others. The network was well-connected to the Trump administration — in 2019, Thomas and others compiled lists of anti-Trump officials in executive agencies for the administration to dismiss and replace with Trump allies.
Public records obtained by American Oversight show the degree of access Thomas and her coalition had in the Trump administration. A calendar entry from March 5, 2020, shows Russ Vought, then the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, was scheduled to have “Breakfast with Ginni Thomas.”
On Dec. 10, 2018, Thomas, on behalf of her lobbying firm Liberty Consulting, invited a Department of Health and Human Services official — likely Steven Wagner, the director of the Administration for Children and Families — to a “Conversation and Strategic Discussion” with conservative commentator Jordan Peterson. The invitation noted that the event would be “closed to press and off the record” and that “a primary goal of this meeting is to determine specific action steps/solutions for winning back the next generation.” The reception was hosted by Thomas along with conservative Christian activist Bill Dallas and the Heritage Foundation’s Bridgett Wagner. The list of participants included prominent conservatives.
On Aug. 22, 2018, Neomi Rao, then the administrator of OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, was scheduled to have a “Groundswell Mtg.” It is not confirmed whether this is Ginni Thomas’ Groundswell. Early in her career, Rao served as a law clerk for Justice Thomas on the Supreme Court, and in 2019, she was appointed by Trump to serve as federal judge in Washington, D.C.
Thomas’ Activism Raises Judicial Ethics Questions
Ginni Thomas’ career as a prominent conservative activist, more heavily involved in politics than any other spouse of a Supreme Court justice in history, has for years raised concerns among legal experts who note that justices typically avoid even being seen as partisan. Through her activism, Ginni Thomas has taken stances on issues that have come before the Supreme Court, such as on abortion, gun rights, and the Affordable Care Act, and recently took on major role in challenging Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. Justice Thomas’ repeated failure to recuse himself on multiple matters relevant to his wife’s advocacy, especially as the court hears increasingly politically polarized cases, has been the subject of scrutiny.
Recently, Ginni Thomas was among the conservatives who signed a letter criticizing the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. A month later, Justice Thomas was the only Supreme Court justice to support Trump’s request to block that committee from accessing White House records.
Ginni Thomas also played a role in challenging the 2020 election results as a leader of the conservative Council for National Policy (CNP), according to the New York Times. Following the November 2020 election, CNP directed its members to spread misinformation about the election and pressured Republican lawmakers in Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania to challenge the election results by awarding their states’ electoral votes to Trump. In a newsletter, CNP’s political advocacy arm advised, “There is historical, legal precedent for Congress to count a slate of electors different from that certified by the Governor of the state.” Fake electoral certificates submitted by Trump allies in swing states to Congress to dispute Biden’s victory were obtained by American Oversight last year.
American Oversight continues to investigate Ginni Thomas’ connections and influence. We have filed records requests seeking communications between Thomas and federal agencies during the Trump administration, and in January 2022, we submitted public records requests to attorneys generals and governors across the country for communications with both Ginni Thomas and Justice Thomas.