Justice Clarence Thomas said Wednesday that the Supreme Court confirmation process is an example of how the nation’s capital is “broken in some ways.” Thomas reflected on his 25 years as a justice while speaking at the Heritage Foundation.
(USA Today) – Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas lamented Wednesday that the nation’s capital is “broken” and its institutions of government are being destroyed by an inability to debate issues with civility.
Speaking to a friendly audience at the Heritage Foundation as he celebrates his 25th anniversary on the high court, Thomas said even the Supreme Court must do more to earn the public trust.
“This city is broken in some ways,” Thomas said. “At some point, we are going to have to recognize that we are destroying our institutions.”
Rather than blame only the executive and legislative branches, Thomas pointed a finger at the court as well. “What have we done to gain their confidence?” he asked. “Perhaps we should ask ourselves what we have done to not earn it or to earn it.”
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The occasion gave Thomas, who speaks publicly less often than most of his colleagues on the court, an opportunity to address how it has changed in recent years, particularly since the death in February of his dear friend, Justice Antonin Scalia.
The court has become evenly divided between liberals and conservatives, a change that could become even more pronounced if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency and controls who will replace Scalia. But Thomas chose to dwell more on his friendship with “Nino” than ponder the future without him.
“He was from the north, and I was from the south, but we wound up at the same place,” he said, referring to their views on the paramount importance of the Constitution and individual freedoms. Scalia, he said, fretted over big principles as well as smaller things such as punctuation and syntax.
“He did the small, he did the big, he cared about it all,” Thomas said. “That teaches you a lesson — that it all matters.”
The court’s lone African-American justice also defended his view that even prior Supreme Court precedents must be bent or broken to comply with the Constitution — something most of his colleagues don’t believe.
“You’ve got lots of precedents out there that have been changed,” Thomas said. “I believe we are obligated to rethink things constantly.”
On other topics, the court’s most enigmatic justice offered these views:
• Most of the action at the federal level is at government agencies, rather than in Congress. He noted that the Affordable Care Act of 2010 was among the last statutes to come before the court.
The name of that legislation “seems like it’s kind of a misnomer, with all of the things that are going on,” he said, in obvious reference to recent premium increases that have beset Obamacare.
• It’s the job of the justices to write opinions that can be understood by average Americans. “I think we are obligated to make the Constitution and what we write about the Constitution accessible to citizens,” he said.
• He reads and trusts only “friend of the court” briefs that come from reliable sources, such as the U.S. solicitor general’s office and the American Civil Liberties Union. But “Law Professors for a Better World,” he mused, making up the name? Not so much.
• He wishes he had more time to spend in his RV, a 40-foot, 17-year-old vehicle that he and his wife, Virginia, have ridden to 40 states in order to press the flesh with real people — including one man who said, “‘Anybody ever tell you you look like Clarence Thomas?'”
“It’s freedom for me,” he said. “Even the breakdowns are great.”