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Virginia Thomas may step down from 'tea party' group

Liberty Central says no decision has been made yet, but the Supreme Court justice's wife may 'take a back seat' at the conservative nonprofit. The group's partisan tone has drawn criticism from legal ethics experts.

November 16, 2010|By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, may be stepping down as president of Liberty Central, a group she founded last year that worked with "tea party" activists to elect more conservatives to Congress.

She has long been active in conservative politics in Washington, including serving as an aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and as a liaison between the Heritage Foundation and the George W. Bush administration.

Thomas founded Liberty Central with the goal of restoring the "founding principles" of limited government and individual liberty. The group's website has spoken of the "tyranny" of the Obama administration and called for the repeal of the president's "unconstitutional" healthcare overhaul.

The group's partisan tone drew criticism from some legal ethics experts because it clashed with her husband's role as a nonpartisan jurist. A day after the Tribune Washington Bureau reported Liberty Central's statement calling the healthcare law "unconstitutional," the comment was removed from the website.

A public relations spokeswoman for the group told the Washington Post earlier Monday that Virginia Thomas planned to "take a back seat so that Liberty Central can continue with its mission without any of the distractions."

But late Monday, Liberty Central denied that a decision had been made for Thomas to step down.

"There is no agreement at this time. In fact, there are several options on the table," Sarah Field, the general counsel and chief operating officer for Liberty Central, said in a statement.

Thomas organized her group as a nonprofit social welfare organization under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, allowing it to collect and spend money for educational activities, so long as partisan political activity is not its primary purpose. The group has refused to disclose its donors.

At the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas has been the lone justice to argue that the laws requiring public disclosure of large political contributions are unconstitutional. In January, Thomas joined a 5-4 majority that cleared the way for corporations to spend money on election ads, but he dissented from the part of the opinion that upheld the disclosure laws.

Last month, Virginia Thomas revived national interest in the sexual harassment allegations that nearly derailed her husband's career. She left a recorded message with Brandeis University law professor Anita Hill asking her to apologize for having accused Clarence Thomas, who had once been her supervisor, of making a series of comments about sex and pornography. He has "categorically" denied making any such comments.

In response to the phone call, Hill said she had nothing to apologize for because she had told the truth under oath during the 1991 confirmation hearing that elevated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

david.savage@latimes.com

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