Opinion: Ginni Thomas puts Supreme Court’s reputation on the line

When Taft was nominated for the Court in 1921, he even observed, “I don’t remember that I ever was President.”

Under the Constitution, presidents can veto the legislation Congress passes and Congress can, in turn, override those vetoes. But when the Supreme Court pronounces on the law, its decisions are effectively final. Unless they are impeached and removed, justices serve for life.

Two stories relating to their awesome power dominated US politics last week. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court, faced — and by many accounts, ably handled — questions from a Senate committee examining her candidacy.

And then, late on Thursday, Justice Clarence Thomas, who has served on the court since 1991, came under new scrutiny. CNN, the Washington Post and CBS News reported that his wife, Ginni Thomas, sent numerous texts to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, urging him to continue in the fight to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory so that Donald Trump could remain in office.

“In text messages to Meadows, Ginni Thomas called Election Day a ‘heist’ and repeated debunked theories about evidence of election fraud,” wrote Elliot Williams. “Thomas actively weighed in on the makeup of Trump’s legal team, with a particular focus on ensuring that Meadows help Sidney Powell be ‘the lead and the face’ of the team. She weighed in directly on legal strategy, saying ‘(s)ounds like Sidney and her team are getting inundated with evidence of fraud. Make a plan. Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down.'”

Ginni Thomas is entitled to her opinions, but the issue for Justice Thomas is whether he should have recused himself from cases relating to the election and the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, Williams noted.

“In February 2021, Justice Thomas wrote a dissent after the majority declined to hear a case filed by Pennsylvania Republicans that sought to disqualify certain mail-in ballots. In January 2022, Thomas was the only justice who said publicly that he was against allowing the release of records from the Trump White House related to the Jan. 6 attack … the glaring appearance of a conflict is more than enough to justify Justice Thomas’s stepping aside from all matters related to January 6.”

If Thomas doesn’t recuse himself from participating in January 6-related cases, Williams argued, no one “should be shocked that America has lost faith in its highest court.” (Justice Thomas returned home Friday after a weeklong hospital stay for what a court spokesman described as an infection.)
In The New York Times, Jesse Wegman wrote that “Yes, married people can lead independent professional lives, and it is not a justice’s responsibility to police the actions of his or her spouse. But the brazenness with which the Thomases have flouted the most reasonable expectations of judicial rectitude is without precedent. From the Affordable Care Act to the Trump administration’s Muslim ban to the 2020 election challenges, Ms. Thomas has repeatedly embroiled herself in big-ticket legal issues and with litigants who have wound up before her husband’s court. All the while, he has looked the other way, refusing to recuse himself from any of these cases.”

What the hearings confirmed

Republicans had promised to make Jackson’s confirmation hearings respectful and expressed their determination to avoid the fierce pyrotechnics that characterized the nominations of Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork.

In Peniel E. Joseph‘s eyes, they failed.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s “inaccurate and blatantly racist attempts to patronize Jackson while twisting her sterling record into a scare narrative of GOP bogeymen — critical race theory, the 1619 Project and controversies over transgender athletes and women’s sports — were staggering yet unsurprising,” Joseph wrote.

“Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Missouri’s Josh Hawley, two of the most conservative and Trump-loving elected officials in the nation, attempted to attack Jackson as being soft on crime and unusually lenient in sentencing child sex offenders (an assertion that a group of retired federal judges rejected, finding her sentences ‘entirely consistent’ with that of other judges across the country).”

Republicans seemed well on their way to castiing “no” votes on Jackson’s nomination, despite her top-notch legal credentials and her expression of a judicial “methodology” that sounded awfully like the one conservatives espouse.

Jeffrey Toobin wrote that she spoke “of the ‘limited’ role of the judiciary and her desire to ‘stay in (her) lane’ as a judge rather than as a legislator. Jackson has said further that she begins her analysis of the Constitution and laws always with the ‘text.’ She has gone out of her way not to embrace a belief in a ‘living Constitution,’ an interpretative method based on the idea that the meaning of the Constitution must be seen in light of changing conditions in society at large.”

Once confirmed, Jackson would likely mostly rule with the liberals on the court. “But language matters, and the way we talk about the Constitution often dictates what the Constitution comes to mean,” noted Toobin.
“By emphasizing the importance of constitutional text as a restraint on judicial discretion,” wrote Adam J. White. “Jackson sounded like conservative former Justice Antonin Scalia at times.”

A hopeful note

Jackson’s hearing resonated outside legal circles, wrote Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center. On day one, she wrote, “The photojournalist Sarahbeth Maney captured an image of one of Jackson’s daughters as her mother testified before the committee. While her mother smiles in the foreground, Leila Jackson beams with pride behind her, visibly filled with the respect for her mother many parents dream to see.”

“When the punditry is over and Judge Jackson hopefully is confirmed as Justice Jackson, this will be the legacy of her rise to the Supreme Court: A young Black girl, one of a generation of Black girls, joyful at the sight of new possibilities for her own life.

In The Washington Post, Dana Milbank questioned the sincerity of the GOP senators’ self-styled war against “the elites,” noting the prestigious universities attended by Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and others. He called Sen. Tom Cotton “a counterfeit commoner” who “announced with indignation at this week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings that he doesn’t want a justice who follows the ‘views of the legal elite.’ He later complained that ‘a bunch of elite lawyers’ such as nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson ‘think that sentences for child pornography are too harsh. I don’t and I bet a lot of normal Americans don’t, either.'”

“And who is this ‘normal American’ decrying the ‘legal elite’? Why, he’s a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, a former clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit and a former associate at two Washington-insider law firms who now sits on the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate,” Milbank pointed out.

Julian Zelizer noted that “While the ‘soft on crime’ line of attack might seem like a predictable extension of a decades-long Republican ‘law and order’ strategy, commentators have pointed out that the senators may have been trying to appeal to those who follow QAnon and believe the conspiracy theory that President Donald Trump is locked in a battle against a group of elites who run a child sex ring.”

“Sen. Ted Cruz’s version of ‘gotcha’ was to hold up books that had been assigned or recommended at a private school in Washington where Jackson is a board member, trying to make the case that they covered radical concepts unfit for children. Throughout the confirmation hearings, Republicans tried to score cheap political points by delving into bizarre lines of argument — all of which revealed how fringe talking points had become mainstream.

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Putin’s disaster

Thursday marked one month since the Russian military launched an unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin’s war has taken a horrific toll on the people of Ukraine, with civilians killed and cities ruined. But now evidence is emerging that it has also weakened the Russian military and created new risks for the man who ordered them to fight.

“Quagmire,” defined by Oxford Languages as a “soft boggy area of land that gives way underfoot” is one way to look at the Russian invasion, which is not only bogged down but deadly. After one month of war, casualties among Russian troops in Ukraine are estimated to be as high as 15,000 — roughly the same number of losses the Soviet military sustained over nine years during the failed invasion of Afghanistan, wrote Peter Bergen.

This was surely not how Putin dreamed of restoring Russia’s glory, a dream that is fast turning into ashes — just as Putin has reduced the Ukrainian city of Mariupol to ashes,” Bergen wrote.

“When the Soviet military departed Afghanistan in 1989, the countries and populations of Eastern Europe — then under varying degrees of the Soviet yoke — took note. If the feared Soviet army couldn’t win a war on its own borders against Afghan guerrilla forces, what did it say about its ability to control the fates of East Germany, Hungary and Poland?”

“The failure of the Soviet war in Afghanistan hammered a giant nail into the coffin of the Soviet empire,” Bergen observed. “It’s not an accident the Berlin Wall fell just months later, opening up East Germany to the West.”

Writing from Lviv, Michael Bociurkiw noted the Ukraine war’s impact: “upwards of 10 million people have been displaced, several thousand dead and injured and cities such as Mariupol completely flattened.”

“It is Mariupol which has become ground zero for the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe that has not only shocked the world, but where red lines, which should have been established by the West, were crossed — such as the strike earlier this month on a maternity ward that killed a pregnant mother and her unborn child.”

The West shouldn’t have been surprised at the flow of refugees fleeing Putin’s aggression. It began with attacks on Georgia in 2008 and moved on to Russia’s invasion in Ukraine in 2014, wrote Olena Stiazhkina. “Over the last two weeks, the year 2014, which never ended, has been attacking me from all sides. In the spring of that year, back in my native Donetsk, I began to act like the local madwoman, muttering under her breath and occasionally screaming: ‘Tanks! War! The Russians are coming!'”

“Since I moved to Kyiv, I’ve kept up this persona. For years, I’ve been looking people in the eye and telling them: ‘There will be war. There will most definitely be war.’

Lesson from Syria

In a chilling account of his time in Syria, Dr. Hamza al-Kateab wrote, “I will never forget the first time I saw Russian warcraft in the skies above Aleppo. It was September 2015, I was in my garden with my wife Waad and a friend when we saw three Russian aircraft flying over together, launching a missile attack. I knew at that moment that everything was about to change.”

“As a Syrian doctor and former hospital director in Aleppo, I know exactly what it means to be a direct target for the Russian forces.”

“The war crimes that are being committed in Ukraine right now are, unfortunately, nothing new. They are no coincidence. Attacks on health care facilities are a strategic play by Russian and Russian-backed Syrian regimes and they have been attempted, developed and repeated for at least the past 11 years.”

Why attack hospitals and medical centers? “It makes it impossible for people to live in a city,” wrote al-Kateab. “How can people stay when the places they rely on for their health and safety have become a direct target? These attacks force people out. And most importantly, it is an attempt to break their resilience. It is an attempt to break their hope.

Surviving Hitler and dying in Putin’s war

Boris Romantschenko was a teenager living in eastern Ukraine when Nazi invaders deported the men in his village to Germany and forced him to work in a coal mine. When he tried to escape, he was imprisoned and eventually assigned to more forced labor camps.

Among them was an island in the Baltic Sea, where he had to help assemble the V2 rockets used to bomb London and Antwerp in 1942. As Jens-Christian Wagner wrote, Romantschenko was later freed by the British when they liberated the Bergen-Belsen camp in 1945.

Wagner, a history professor who serves as director of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation, added that even then, Romantschenko couldn’t get back to Ukraine. Instead, he was drafted by the Soviets into the Red Army which occupied East Germany.

Eight years after his original capture by the Nazis, he finally returned to his home. “Romantschenko spoke to schoolchildren about his experiences and urged us to safeguard peace and freedom and to protect human rights. ‘I wish you the best of luck from the bottom of my heart, and I hope that no one ever has to go through what we former prisoners experienced,’ he said in 2013.”

Earlier this month, a Russian missile struck Romantschenko’s apartment building in Kharkiv, killing him, Wagner wrote. “Hitler could not defeat our friend Boris. Now another fascist dictator, Vladimir Putin, has killed him.”

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Getting off fossil fuels

Europe’s dependency on fuel from Russia has helped fund Putin’s war machine, as Jeremi Suri and Clark Miller wrote. “For more than a century, the world’s addiction to fossil fuel has undermined international security and entangled the US and Europe in damaging relationships with authoritarian regimes, from Saudi Arabia to Iran to Indonesia.”

In the wake of Ukraine’s invasion, they argued, “We must end the role of fossil fuels as the primary energy source for global markets.”

“Accomplishing that goal requires severely curtailing worldwide demand for oil: We need to aggressively pivot to electric vehicles and to build out global green hydrogen for use by industry and heavy transportation. And that demands the kind of integrated innovation, manufacturing, and deployment efforts pioneered by the Manhattan Project” during World War II.

“A Manhattan Project today would entail rapidly expanding the manufacture of electric cars, solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, electrolyzers, heat pumps, and a wide variety of other technologies. It will also mean building new and sustainable supply chains in critical minerals, steel, and other materials that rely on North American and European mining — bypassing Russia and China.”

Since 2015, a decaying oil tanker has been anchored off the coast of Yemen, posing the risk of an environmental disaster that would dwarf the “cataclysmic March 1989 Exxon Valdez spill” off the coast of Alaska, wrote Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute scientist Chris Reddy.

“International officials are working to stave off a potential environmental and human catastrophe: The 362-meter (1,118-foot) Safer is filled with more than a million barrels (40 million gallons) of light, sweet crude oil — liquid cargo which could lead to ecological disaster were the vessel to leak oil or explode.”

Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright made history as the first woman to become a US Secretary of State. But she will also be remembered for the force of her intellect and drive. Elmira Bayrasli, fresh off an internship at the US Embassy in Ankara, went to work as an aide for Albright in the mid-1990s when she was the US Ambassador to the UN.

“I had a front row seat to the workings of international diplomacy,” wrote Bayrasli. “Now, some 25 years later, I realize that I also witnessed the early makings of feminist foreign policy, which though initially focused on the issue of gender, has evolved to ensure human rights, democracy and, most importantly, stability.”

“As a refugee to the US from then-Czechoslovakia, she very much believed in America’s role as ‘the indispensable nation’— a nation based on the values of advocating for the oppressed and actively upholding human rights. Of course, that sometimes meant using the might of the American military to stand up for those values.”

“Her political philosophy also put her at odds with those who didn’t believe the US should get involved in wars that did not directly impact the US, including the one that broke out in the crumbling Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, where Serbs resisted the creation of independent Bosnian and Croatian states.”

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‘Bridgerton’ is back

The ultimate challenge for a streaming hit is to create a successful second season. Netflix may have done that, according to Holly Thomas. “In incredible news for everyone who has found the last year and three months since season 1 came out a bit much, ‘Bridgerton’ is back,” she wrote.

“In tragic news for my mum, RegĂ©-Jean Page — aka Daphne Bridgerton’s new husband and reluctant baby daddy, the Duke — isn’t returning with it. Fans will have to make do with Anthony Bridgerton, Daphne’s hotheaded eldest brother played by Jonathan Bailey, as their new leading man …”

“Having spent season 1 either in bed with his now-ex girlfriend or channeling his frustrations at their forced estrangement by dueling his best friend, Anthony has sworn off romance in favor of a resigned, clinical approach to marriage. With the prospects of his younger siblings to consider, he has vowed to find a mate appropriate to care for them and the future Bridgerton line — a choice that must be weighed independently of love.”

“It’s a fluffy, addictive, entirely watchable disaster waiting to happen.”

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