Monday, September 24, 2007

Justice Thomas Speaks at Marshall University

Several news stories about this speech:

1. In W.Va. visit, Clarence Thomas blasts critics of court
HUNTINGTON -- Divisive issues like abortion will come to seem almost quaint compared to some of the complex matters that will soon confront the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas told an audience at Marshall University.
Thomas, appointed by President Bush in 1991, said the rapid pace of computer and information technology change will soon require society and the courts to confront new dimensions of issues ranging from intellectual property to crime.

Holding up his thin, compact personal digital assistant, Thomas discussed the rapid changes since he was appointed 16 years ago.

"When I went on the court, a cell phone looked like a loaf of bread,'' Thomas told the crowd, which included students, local dignitaries, and members of the AARP who invited him to Huntington.

The speed with which computers are changing society will soon make other issues -- like immigration -- seem less significant in comparison, Thomas said.

"Issues like abortion will be rendered almost simple compared to the issues we will face,'' he said.

Thomas' visit is the first ever paid to the Marshall campus by a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Thomas came at the invitation of Dolly Rozzi, head of the local AARP chapter, who worked for him when he was chairman of the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in the 1980s.

The judge, a firmly conservative member of the court, used the occasion to blast critics of the Supreme Court as being poorly informed and superficial in their criticism.

"All you need to be an expert on the Supreme Court is a couple of drinks and a mouth,'' Thomas said to laughter.

"Those who are outside the building have no idea what's really happening,'' he said. "I don't think you can be in the position of criticizing if you don't know anything about it.''

* * *
"One of the surprises of the court is how civil it is,'' he said, noting that Scalia and liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg are close friends who share a love of opera. The justices engage in a number of bonding rituals, Thomas said, like always making it a point to eat lunch together during the session.

"The real hard part of our work is behind closed doors,'' he said. "We don't have a PR machine. We don't have town hall meetings. We're referees and none of us thinks a referee can make up rules as they go along.''

Rozzi said she's an example of that spirit of cooperation.

She described herself as a "dyed-in-the-wool Democrat'' but said she and the conservative jurist always worked well together.

"I really enjoyed working for this man,'' she said. "We got along from the day we met.''
2. A local blogger:
went to see Justice Clarence Thomas at Marshall University last night – great guy and a great event. After last night and Saturday, I’ve got say that the school seems to have a gift for pulling off first-class events.

Thomas was very approachable – at the pre-event we talked about the merit of a Hampden-Sydney education (considerable) and the troubles presented to the motor coach enthusiast (he is one) of having the I-70 tunnel through Wheeling closed.
3. Thomas talks courts, sports at Marshall, by Chris Dickerson -Cabell Bureau:

HUNTINGTON -- Despite being a diehard Nebraska Cornhusker fan, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas couldn't help himself.

Thomas took part in an enthusiastic "We Are … Marshall!" cheer led by Marshall University President Stephen J. Kopp during his appearance Monday on the campus.

When in Huntington …

Thomas spoke at the monthly meeting of the Huntington branch of AARP during a special meeting at MU's Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center. Thomas, 59, was the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice to visit Marshall, which is named for legendary Justice John Marshall.

The auditorium wasn't filled to capacity, but many prominent people attended, such as state Supreme Court justices Brent Benjamin and Spike Maynard, U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver, Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred Ferguson, Putnam Circuit Judge Ed Eagloski and prominent Huntington attorney Mike Ferrell.

Thomas used sports analogies several times during his talk.

"We're like referees," the Georgia native said of judges. "We're neutral. And we use the rules given to us. You don't want referees making up rules as they go along.

"You want consistency and impartiality from referees, including the ones who wear black robes. After all, it's your Constutition."

Thomas also talked about how the nine Supreme Court justices don't always agree on legal issues, but a common civility bonds them together.

"We're the antithesis of what you normally see from Washington, D.C.," he said. "It's not about our differences. It's about what we have in common.

"We always begin our work with a handshake. We always have lunch together. It's hard to break bread together and hate each other.

"Sure, there is disagreement and exasperation, but we're friends."

He described the Supreme Court as a calm and civil place in the middle of a storm, much like a reading room of a library.

"A temper tantrum does not supersede the Constitution," Thomas said. "We have an obligation to be as responsible as we can when interpreting laws. … I tell my law clerks all the time, the structure is what was meant to run the country. Not the amendments.

"It's not about us. It's about the Constitution. I took an oath to God to do this job impartially"

In one of the evening's lighter moments, the conservative judge took a jab at critics of the court.

"All you need to be an expert on the Supreme Court is a couple of drinks and a mouth,'' Thomas said. After the laughter stopped, he went on to say court critics usually aren't informed.

"Those who are outside the building have no idea what's really happening,'' he said. "I don't think you can be in the position of criticizing if you don't know anything about it. You can't criticize if you aren't informed."

Still, Thomas seemed to be unfazed by criticism.

"People have different perspectives of the court, and it's good to hear what other people think of the work we do."

Thomas also took time to praise John Marshall, who was the longest serving Chief Justice in U.S. History and played a major role in shaping the U.S. legal system.

"We wouldn't have the judicial system today without Justice Marshall," Thomas said. "He defined the role of the judicial branch. Marbury v. Madison is the beginning of our system of judicial review.

"It's been almost 16 years ago, but I still remember sitting in the John Marshall chair for the first time."

The two state Supreme Court justices in attendance praised Thomas' appearance.

"Justice Thomas is a great jurist," Benjamin said. "It's an honor to have an opportunity to talk to him. He's intelligent, humble, respectful and personable."

"The talk was fascinating," Maynard said. "And it's a real coup for Huntington, Marshall and the AARP to get Justice Thomas here."

Other highlights of Thomas' speech:

* He recalled listening to his grandfather and his friends arguing over issues of the day, topics ranging from politics to weather to sports.

"The disagreements didn't separate them," he said. "It kept them interesting. Bonds like that have been weakened in today's society."

* When asked to talk about the most difficult vote he has cast in his 16 years on the Supreme Court, Thomas thought for a moment.

"Let me just evade that question," he said, drawing chuckles from the crowd.

* Thomas said he is a frequent visitor to the Mountain State.

"I come through West Virginia quite a bit, usually in my mobile home," he said. "I just don't broadcast it that I'm here.

"But I will come back and, hopefully, have a chance to meet with students here."

* Thomas was invited to Huntington by Dolly Rozzi, head of the Huntington AARP chapter. She worked for Thomas when he was chairman of the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in the 1980s.

Despite being a staunch liberal Democrat to Thomas' conservative views, Rozzi said she always got along well with her former boss.

"I really enjoyed working for this man,'' she said.
4. Thomas shares views of Supreme Court
By: Jennifer L. Chapman
Posted: 9/11/07
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said he finds it interesting that most people who consider themselves experts on constitutional law have not even read the Constitution.

"All you need to be an expert on the Supreme Court are a couple of drinks and a mouth," Thomas said to the not-filled-to-capacity audience Monday evening at an AARP meeting in the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center.

In a more serious tone, the gray-headed Thomas, who is the first Supreme Court justice to visit Marshall, added that one cannot be in a position of criticizing if they are not educated about the issue, especially about the proceedings of the Supreme Court.

"Those outside of the building have no idea what happens inside the building," Thomas said. "What I continue to be surprised by is the difference of what actually happens and what is said that happens."

Thomas said support and cooperation are examples of what does happen inside the courtroom, and refusing to get caught up in self-interest is Thomas' way of staying grounded in such an esteemed position. Leaving politics and personal relationships out of the equation fall right behind.

"We always begin our work with a handshake, and we always have lunch together," Thomas said about the relationship between the justices. "It's hard to break bread together and hate each other."

He referred to the Supreme Court and its members as the antithesis of what can be seen in Washington, D.C., and said he has never heard an unkind word.

But society is often focused on disagreements, the justice pointed out. He reminisced about his childhood, recalling that his grandfather would argue with others over politics and sports, and he loved to listen to the disputes. But regardless of how much the verbal disagreements intrigued him, the fighting and politics were the very aspects of his previous position as the director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission he detested. As a justice, he said, he can just do the job.

A self-proclaimed sports enthusiast and a Huskers fan at heart, Thomas compared his position as justice to that of a referee. Neutrality and "not making up their own rules as they go along" are aspects of the Supreme Court that he said he appreciates as part of his job.

"You want consistency and impartiality from referees, and that includes referees in black robes," Thomas said.

President George H.W. Bush referred to Thomas as a good man who calls verdicts as he sees them. Because of that, the former president promised to never publicly criticize the justice for any vote he would make, whether he agreed or not. Thomas credits his praiseworthy-integrity to the promise he made to God.

"I took an oath to God to do this job impartially," Thomas said.

Sometimes playing the role of the arbitrator is not always an enjoyable one, the justice pointed out. In response to a question from a member of the audience, he stated that it is the decisions in which the guilty verdict is not entirely clear that are the most difficult. Those are the ones that give him nightmares.

Self-discipline is a necessary characteristic for someone in his line of work. It has always been difficult and still is, he said.

"If you start saying, 'because I feel a particular way I can break the rules,' then everyone can break the rules," Thomas said.

The future doesn't seem to be any easier for Thomas or his fellow Supreme Court justices. He said issues such as abortion will be rendered almost simple compared to the issues that will soon face the court. He did not give an example to his theory.

But Thomas said he is dedicated to America's judicial system and the people that it affects.

"I hope that when my tenure is over, my work will be understandable by regular people like me," Thomas said.

In addition, he said he hopes to return to Marshall in the future for a question-and-answer session with students, although his schedule will not permit a visit any time soon.

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