Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Justice Thomas at National Archives

From the New York Times:

September 17, 2012

From Justice Thomas, a Little Talk About Race, Faith and the Court

WASHINGTON — Justice Clarence Thomas has not asked a question from the bench in more than six years, and he seldom appears in public in Washington, a city he says is full of cynics, smart alecks and people who have agendas rather than convictions.
But he opened up last week in a public interview at the National Archives, talking about his race, his faith and relations among the justices after a term that ended with bitter divisions.
For the most part, Justice Thomas spoke somberly about the weight of history and the burdens of his job. But he allowed himself the occasional bit of rueful humor.
“People say horrible things,” he said, smiling. “They say that, well, I’m not black. So I’m just a little doubtful I should say I’m black.”
He said he preferred a time when there was less identification of “who’s what,” and he recalled his youth.
“I was Catholic,” he said. “You talk about a minority within a minority within a minority: a black Catholic in Savannah, Ga.” Yet, he said, “nobody bothered me.”
The occasion for the interview was the Constitution’s 225th anniversary and the publication of a new book called “America’s Unwritten Constitution.” Its author, Akhil Reed Amar, a law professor at Yale, questioned Justice Thomas for more than an hour.
When Professor Amar mentioned that there are, for the first time in history, no Protestants on the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas changed the subject.
“We’re all from the Ivy League,” he said. “That seems to be more relevant than what faith we are.”
(Justice Thomas is one of six Catholics on the court. The other three justices are Jewish.)
He did say that religion played an important role in the nation’s founding and in his own life.
“I grew up in a religious environment, and I’m proud of it,” he said. “I was going to be a priest; I’m proud of it. And I thank God I believe in God, or I would probably be enormously angry right now.”
He did not elaborate on that last point, but there has often been an undercurrent of bitterness in Justice Thomas’s public remarks since his confirmation hearings in 1991, when he faced accusations of sexual harassment.
The evening was sponsored by the Federalist Society, a conservative group, and the Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal one. They agree, though, that constitutional interpretation should be rooted in the document’s text and history. Those are principles closely associated with Justice Thomas, but he seemed to dismiss them.
“You’re supposed to say there’s some angle, some methodology you’re pushing,” he said. “There’s originalism. There’s textualism. All these useless peripheral debates other than just doing our jobs as best we can.”
In June, the Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s health care law by a 5-to-4 vote, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the court’s four more liberal members in the majority. The chief justice’s vote was a surprise, and there were reports of a rift between him and some of his usual allies among the court’s conservatives.
Justice Thomas did not address the controversy directly, but he said relationships on the court are cordial.
“Do we agree?” he asked. “No more than the framers agreed.”
But he said the disagreements were principled and civil. “These are good people,” he said of his colleagues.
He cited Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the senior member of the court’s liberal wing, calling her “a fabulous judge” and a friend.
“Now, how often do we agree?” he asked.
“A lot, actually,” Professor Amar responded, and a look of incredulity passed over the justice’s face.
Professor Amar noted that the court frequently rendered unanimous decisions.
“Oh, the unanimous cases,” Justice Thomas said with a lightly mocking tone that suggested the professor was both right and wrong. “I like that. That’s really a shrewd move. There’s one category of cases in which we agree. What are they? The unanimous cases.”
In fact, Justices Thomas and Ginsburg agreed in 21 percent of the court’s divided cases in the last term, tying for last place, according to Scotusblog. (The other pair of justices least likely to agree was Justice Ginsburg and Justice Antonin Scalia.)
Even as Justice Thomas spoke passionately about the stain that slavery and segregation left on the nation’s history, he seemed wary about giving the courts too large a role in addressing their legacy. On Oct. 10, the court will hear a major case about affirmative action in higher education, Fisher v. University of Texas, and Justice Thomas will almost certainly vote against allowing the university to take account of race in admissions decisions.
In reflecting on his youth, Justice Thomas rejected one of the rationales the Supreme Court offered in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education for forbidding segregation in public schools.
“I hear people say, it affected your self-esteem to be segregated,” he said. “It never affected mine.”
He also shared a memory about Justice Thurgood Marshall, who argued the Brown case and whom Justice Thomas succeeded on the Supreme Court.
“I sat with him in a meeting when I first got to the court, a courtesy visit that was supposed to last 10 minutes,” Justice Thomas said. “It lasted two-and-a-half hours, and he regaled me with stories.”
The meeting included a bit of advice, Justice Thomas said. “He looked at me very quiet and said, ‘I had to do in my time what I had to do, and you have to do in your time what you have to do.’ ”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Justice Thomas News

From the Associated Press:
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Clarence Thomas, the justice long known as the silent member of the Supreme Court, criticized his colleagues Friday for badgering attorneys rather than letting them speak during oral arguments.

Thomas - who hasn't asked a lawyer a question during arguments in nearly four years - said he and the other eight justices virtually always know where they stand on a case by reading legal briefs before oral arguments.

"So why do you beat up on people if you already know? I don't know, because I don't beat up on 'em. I refuse to participate. I don't like it, so I don't do it," Thomas said during an appearance before law students at the University of Alabama.
From the Tuscaloosa News:
United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas would have made a good stand-up comedian.

University of Alabama School of law students roared with laughter throughout Thomas’ lecture Friday afternoon that was more of a question and answer session.

Thomas, 61, lowered his already deep voice and answered one question with a Nick Saban impression.

“It’s a process,” he replied to a query about his decision-making process. “You’re not perfect, you’re always analyzing yourself. I could be a good coach.”

* * * He was nominated in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush after serving for just a year on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“I argued against it, I’d been on the Court of Appeals long enough,” he said. “But when the president calls you, the words out of your mouth are ‘Yes, Mr. President.’”

He first spoke at the school in 2005.

“Last time, I was more on the junior side,” he said. “There are things you learn after 18 years. You’ve seen just about all that you’re going to see,” he said. “Most cases are permutations of the same issue.”

Many of the students’ questions were about Thomas’ path to where he is now and what kind of advice he would give a young law student.

Thomas grew up in Pin Point, Ga., a rural settlement outside Savannah in coastal Georgia that was founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. He spoke Geechee, or Gullah, language until he was a teen.

“I found law school difficult. You see my old textbooks, and you’ll see that the textbooks won,” he said. “My journey was in many ways very unhappy and enormously difficult.”

. . .

Thomas said that he preferred to hire law clerks from modest backgrounds.

“There are too many up there who think they should be there because they’re from an elite background,” he said. Students laughed when he described how former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who died in 2005, could get things done with a glare.

“He was more of a father figure of the World War II generation,” he said when asked how Rehnquist differs from Chief Justice John Roberts. “Chief Justice Roberts is a contemporary.” . . . .

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Justice Thomas at W&L University

Here's a video of Justice Thomas's 10/2009 speech at Washington & Lee University, titled "Lincoln for the Ages: Lessons for the 21st Century":

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Another Justice Thomas graduation speech

From the Northern Virginia Daily:

Justice Clarence Thomas addresses grads on life

By Linwood Outlaw III -- loutlaw@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- More than four decades have passed since Clarence Thomas, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was a young high school student on the brink of entering the real world.

However, Thomas says there are some things about those days that you never forget.

"Graduation was my favorite day of school," Thomas joked as he addressed Randolph-Macon Academy's Class of 2009 at the military school's annual commencement at the Melton Memorial Gymnasium on Saturday morning. "I still believe that graduating from high school is a very special day."

Thomas, the ceremony's keynote speaker, told students that "life can be hard," and that "it will be up to you to make as many good decisions as possible." Thomas urged them to stay positive, and to always value the "three F's": faith, friends and family.

"Life is not easy. It's not easy for any of us. It will probably not be fair. And, it is certainly not all about you," said Thomas, 60, a member of the Supreme Court since 1991.

About 90 students received their high school diplomas from the 117-year old, co-ed boarding school on Saturday. Many of the graduates have been accepted to prestigious four-year universities, and others will continue their military studies at schools such as Virginia Military Institute and The Citadel. In all, the graduates earned more than $3 million in merit scholarships for post-secondary education, school officials said.

Tae Ho Lee, the senior class valedictorian, said he thinks of his peers at Randolph-Macon Academy as family.

"Let's keep in touch, and I wish you the best of luck in the future. Class of 2009, we're taking over," he told his peers.

Lee plans to attend the University of California at Berkeley.

Maj. Gen. Henry M. Hobgood, president of the academy, said he expects great things from this year's graduating class.

"I think they take [with them] the great academic background [of this school]. And probably more importantly, the thing that will stick with them the rest of their lives is preparation for life," Hobgood said. "Our school is all about character and all about good values. And that's what makes a person in the long run."

Randolph-Macon's Class of 2009 has many unique qualities, Hobgood said.

"Every graduating class is different. This one is unique because it's very diverse," he said. "They're very capable. [They have] a lot of academic success, a lot of athletic success. But mostly, they're just a class that has great character. And I think they're going to do well in life. I mean, it's a very unusual class in that regard. I'm very proud of each one of them."

Some of the students come from foreign countries such as Arabia, Korea, China and Spain.

The graduates were overcome with joy after the ceremony as they embraced their families and took pictures outside the gym.

Eliana Eitches, 17, an honors student who plans to attend Columbia University in New York, said she "definitely matured a lot" while attending Randolph-Macon Academy. "I sort of got serious about school, got serious about studying. And then I accomplished my goal, which was to go to Columbia," said Eitches, who received about $500,000 worth of scholarships.

Chase Beatty, 18, was a busy man during his three-year stay at the academy. He played on the varsity football team and ran track. Beatty was also a member of Cadre, the student leadership of the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. Earlier this year, he successfully earned his private pilot certification.

Beatty said Randolph-Macon "was a tough experience," but that he takes away "a more grown sense of myself, a bigger sense of my character and what I want to do with my life."

"It's just helped me to take steps in the right direction. It's given me a solid foundation to build on," said Beatty, who plans to attend The Citadel in South Carolina in the fall.

"I consider this as step one. I've just got many more steps to go. It's a staircase."

Slate Columnist Praises Thomas

This is a first: Dahlia Lithwick, the liberal Slate legal columnist who is usually seen distorting facts in order to mock conservatives, takes an opportunity to praise Thomas:
The temptation to smack back and argue that we deserve to seat Sotomayor because Thomas was a lousy affirmative-action pick who turned into a third-rate justice is hard to resist. But it's flat wrong. Liberals achieve nothing by suggesting that Thomas' elevation to the high court was preposterous on its face or that his tenure there has been a disgrace....

Claims that Thomas is too stupid to ask questions and in constant peril of embarrassing himself at the court are just not that different than claims that Sotomayor is mediocre. Nobody who has followed Thomas' 18-year career at the Supreme Court believes him to be a dunce or a Scalia clone. Whether you accept Jan Crawford Greenburg's claim that Thomas' constitutional theories are so forceful that they have shaped Scalia's or you believe the more common view that Thomas has a deeply reasoned and consistent judicial philosophy that differs dramatically from those of the court's other conservatives, accusations that he's been a dim bulb are just false. They also reveal that the name-calling that originates now, during the confirmation process, engenders a mythology that can never be erased.

Thomas high school graduation speech

From the Washington Examiner:
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke before several hundred graduating seniors on Monday and commended to them the same timeless values he said had led him to their podium.

“It is never wrong to do what is right,” he told Gaithersburg’s Quince Orchard High School class of 2009. “Hard, but never wrong.”

The rare public appearance began with a conversation on a flight from Omaha, Neb., to Washington, D.C.

Quince Orchard football star Terrence Stephens was returning from a recruiting trip at the University of Nebraska. Thomas, a die-hard Cornhusker fan, recognized him immediately. The young man had no idea who Thomas was.

“It was scary because this guy who I didn’t know was telling me all about myself,” Stephens said.

But he was polite and entertained Thomas’ uncommon obsession, which springs in part from his marriage to a Nebraskan. And that made all of the difference. In the months since, Thomas has become a mentor to Stephens. And it was the school’s top jock who invited the 17-year justice to speak before his graduating class.

Thomas urged the graduates to honor traditional values of humility, hard work and gratitude. “Always have good manners — they will open doors,” he told the graduates.

“Stay positive,” he said. “There will be many around you who are cynical or negative or know-it-alls or bitter. These attitudes are cancers of the spirit that do nothing worthwhile, and rob one of the spirit to prosper.”

He reminded them of their place, even as they felt on top of the world.

“Life is not easy for any of us. It will probably not be fair, and it certainly is not all about you,” he said. “The gray hairs and wrinkles you see on older people have been earned the hard way, by living and dealing with the challenges of life.”

And he brought laughter by confessing no familiarity with modern indulgences like text messaging or Twitter, or even Facebook.

Thomas asked them to be grateful. He told a story of his eighth-grade teacher whom he thanked many years later, and stayed in touch with until her death. Among her favorite possessions was a framed photo with Thomas.

His voice broke slightly as he recalled words she told him near her death: “This goes in my coffin with me.”

“Thank your parents and teachers and all who helped you,” Thomas said. “A simple thank you will do wonders.”

It’s a message he has already begun to instill in Stephens. “I’m so thankful — he has already offered me so much,” the young man said. “Now, he wants me to keep helping myself, so that he can keep helping me.”

"We Didn't Know He Was Clarence Thomas"

From NBC Washington:
ustice Thomas -- who otherwise never misses court -- skipped a SCOTUS session to speak at the graduation of his travel companions.

High school seniors Terrence Stephens and Jason Ankrah, star football players at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, Md., were sitting on a plane returning from a recruitment session at the University of Nebraska when they struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to them.

Two Gaithersburg high school football players made friends with their travel companion on a recent flight back from Nebraska -- except they didn't know...

Their seat-mate just happened to be a major Cornhuskers fan.

When they started chatting, Stephens and Ankrah didn't have a clue they were holding court with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

"I was amazed this guy knew so much about us as football players and as people," said Stephens. "That was shocking. I felt honored to be known by someone of his caliber. He was just a regular old guy, sitting in coach, which really shocked me."

By the time the plane landed, the students had figured out who Thomas was, and they promptly told their principal they wanted to invite Thomas to give the keynote speech at their high school graduation. Of course, Principal Carole Working didn't exactly think Thomas would take them up on it. But he showed up at the high school on Monday.

"These young men had no idea who I was as I formed my first impression. I was just another stranger to them. They were wonderful ambassadors for your school and for their fellow students," said Thomas at the Quince Orchard graduation ceremony.

When Stephens and Ankrah arrived on-stage to receive their diplomas, they were both embraced by Justice Thomas.

Ankrah will be playing football for Nebraska next year, but Stephens will be attending Stanford. The justice said he doesn't have any hard feelings over that.

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcwashington.com/video.

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