In this Sept. 20, 2019, file photo, Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, right, and wife Virginia "Ginni" Thomas arrive for a State Dinner with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington. Credit: Patrick Semansky / AP

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Amy Fried is a political science professor at the University of Maine. Her views are her own and do not represent those of any group with which she is affiliated.

At the end of 2021, amid concerns about politicization and conflicts of interest, Chief Justice John Roberts voiced concerns about the judiciary’s falling status. This is a problem because institutional legitimacy helps governments operate.

But the Supreme Court’s standing remains in trouble — for some good reasons.

Last week, Ginni Thomas made headlines. A lobbyist and consultant for far-right groups, she is married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Journalists revealed problematic communications between Ginni Thomas and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Thomas and Meadows regularly texted with each other regarding the last presidential election. These were discovered among materials turned over by Meadows to the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection.

Thomas’s comments were hair-raising. She not only backed the Big Lie that Donald Trump won but also ludicrous QAnon conspiracy theories. In November 2020, she wrote to Meadows that “Watermarked ballots in over 12 states have been part of a huge Trump & military white hat sting operation in 12 key battleground states.”

Ginni Thomas told Meadows other bizarre, hyperbolic falsehoods, including claiming “Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators (elected officials, bureaucrats, social media censorship mongers, fake stream media reporters, etc) are being arrested & detained for ballot fraud right now & over coming days, & will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition.”

Thomas also urged the White House to use lawyer Sidney Powell more in Trump’s election lawsuits. Powell has since had  legal sanctions imposed on her ( including monetary damages and the possibility of her losing her law license) for false fraud claims in election lawsuits.

Another time Ms. Thomas told Meadows  “the most important thing you can realize right now is that there are no rules in war.”

The back-and-forth between Ginni Thomas and Meadows demonstrates extremist, anti-democratic views and raises ethical issues for Justice Thomas that harm the Supreme Court’s legitimacy.

Clarence Thomas was the only member of the Supreme Court to vote against turning over White House documents to the Jan. 6 investigation. Although his wife’s texts weren’t in those papers, his stance constituted a conflict of interest. Other cases may reach the Supreme Court, perhaps regarding a conspiracy involving Trump to obstruct Congress’s proceedings. Justice Thomas should not be involved in any of them.

This isn’t the first ethically problematic instance for the Thomases. In 2000, as Justice Thomas was considering the case that gave George W. Bush the presidency, Ginni Thomas was working for the Heritage Foundation vetting candidates to work for a possible incoming Bush administration.

Sometimes members of the Supreme Court proclaim they are acting according to some consistent constitutional take, but then blatantly disregard them. For instance, Justices Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch recently voted to limit the president’s clear constitutional powers as commander-in-chief, yet typically portray themselves as hewing to the founders’ original intent.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court may soon overturn long-standing precedents long opposed by conservative groups. A nearly 50-year-old abortion rights decision, Roe v. Wade, looks to be in serious danger. Shortly it could topple existing processes for crafting regulations based on federal laws, making it impossible for the executive branch to develop rules protecting workers, the environment and consumers.

And this may be just the beginning. Precedents for our most intimate freedoms are under attack. If they fall, states could again outlaw birth control, prohibit sexual activity between gay men, and stop loving gay and lesbian couples from marrying.

What happens in Washington, D.C., doesn’t stay in Washington, D.C., as Supreme Court decisions could affect our state. The Maine Republican Party’s proposed 2022 platform opposes marriage equality and abortion rights. Depending on who wins the governorship and legislative races and what the Supreme Court rules, personal rights could be in jeopardy.

The Supreme Court weakens its reputation by not attending to conflicts of interest like the ones involving Ginni and Clarence Thomas, by removing rights Americans have relied on, and by claiming originalism while undermining powers explicitly named in the Constitution. No wonder polls show the Supreme Court has fallen  in public  esteem.

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Amy Fried, Opinion columnist

Amy Fried has written about the media and politics, women in politics, Maine and American political culture, and political activism, and works to create change through the Rising Tide Center. A political...