ABC News' Ariane de Vogue reports:
In a speech Saturday night, Justice Clarence Thomas praised his wife, Virginia Thomas, for working “in defense of liberty” and said that they both "love the same things, we believe in the same things."
The speech, which was closed to the press, marked Thomas' first public comments in support of his wife since 74 Democratic congress members asked him to recuse himself from potentially hearing a challenge to the Obama administration's health care law. The law makers said that if the case were to eventually reach the Supreme Court, Thomas should step aside in part because his wife is a paid lobbyist for a group that opposes the law.
A partial recording of the speech was obtained by Politico from an attendee and is posted on its website.
Virginia, who goes by Ginny, is one of the most politically active spouses in the history of the Supreme Court. She has worked for years in conservative politics and has praised the ideals of the tea party movement. She told NPR last year: “I did not give up my First Amendment rights when my husband became a justice of the Supreme Court."
Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, the group that hosted the speech, said the Justice’s comments reflected his devotion to his wife and not a response to the recent controversy surrounding her lobbying activities.
"If all you've been looking at is the news about them over the last three or four months you might draw some conclusions that he was being defiant or bothered and so he talked about his wife." said Leo, who moderated a question-and-answer session with Thomas.
"But Clarence Thomas has always been incredibly devoted to his wife and she was an enormously courageous person during one of the most challenging times of his life, which was his confirmation process, and ever since that when Ginny is in the audience at an event he will turn to her and acknowledge the presence of his partner and his best friend," Leo said.
Leo said that Thomas was addressing an audience of mainly young conservative lawyers and telling them they have a duty to defend the Constitution.
"In that context," Leo said, "he then turned to his wife, not attacking his attackers but using their life experience to say that everyone has to stand up for what they believe in."
Thomas said he and his wife "are focused on defending liberty. I admire her and I love her for that because it keeps me going."
In the speech, which took place at the University of Virginia, Thomas also warned of those seeking to attack the Court as an institution.
According to the Politico article he told the audience, “You all are going to be, unfortunately, the recipients of the fallout from that -– that there’s going to be a day when you need these institutions to be credible and to be fully functioning to protect your liberties, and that's long after I'm gone."
Thomas ended by the speech by saying, "One of things I want to do is I want to go to my grave knowing that I gave everything that I have trying to get it right."