Today's Philadelphia Inquirer story about the phone call U.S. Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas' wife Virginia made to Anita Hill raised some interesting questions for me. Aside from the call to Hill, which I would describe as just really odd, it is interesting that she has turned out to be so politically active, now starting an advocacy group opposing President Obama. There has been some opining about whether her advocacy impacts Judge Thomas' impartiality.
So, for me, it's a workplace issue -- the issue being how one person's job affects the decisions of family members.
Oddly enough, we as reporters struggle with similar family issues. Like Judge Thomas, although not at his level, obviously, we strive to not only write impartially, but to retain the appearance of impartiality. Most political writers are registered as independents, effectively denying them the chance to participate fully in civic life because they have to sit out the primary. (In Philadelphia, for example, the most municipal important races tend to be the Democratic primaries.)
But the appearance of impartiality goes beyond us as individuals. No matter how my husband feels about politics, he can't paste a candidate's sticker on one of our bumpers, or put a campaign sign in our yard. Neither of us signs petitions. The point is that his personal ability to participate is limited by my job. He can't even write a letter to the editor, even though he constantly composes them in his head (and I listen over our morning coffee). We take this position even though his last name is different from mine.