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 --

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:

Friday, April 17, 2009

Justice Thomas Speech

Here is a PDF of his speech and Q&A session at the Bill of Rights Institute, March 31, 2009.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Justice Thomas Speech at Washington and Lee

On March 16, 2009. Here is the audio.

And here are three accounts, one with a short video:
Justice Thomas: Americans Little Disposed to Sacrifice and Self-Denial

By Debra Cassens Weiss

Justice Clarence Thomas says Americans today are less willing to sacrifice during hard times, and he lays the blame on the “self indulgent, me generation” of the 1960s.

In a speech yesterday at Washington and Lee University, Thomas recalled the messages he heard over and again as a child, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. "Learn to do without," he was told. "Prepare for a rainy day," and "No one owes you a living."

"These days, there seems to be little emphasis on responsibility, sacrifice and self-denial," Thomas said, according to the Times-Dispatch account. "Rarely do we hear a message of sacrifice, unless it is used as a justification of taxation of others or a transfer of wealth to others."

Thomas recalled President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech and said the words no longer ring true. “Today the message seems to be, 'Ask not what you can do for yourselves and your country, but what your country can do for you.' "

Thomas thinks that needs to change, the Associated Press reports in its account of the speech. "Our country and our principles are more important than our individual wants," Thomas said.

Supreme Court Justice Thomas visits Washington & Lee

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas doesn't make a lot of public appearances but he did Monday night at Washington and Lee University.

This was a homecoming of sorts for Justice Thomas.

He spoke at Washington and Lee before he became a Supreme Court justice and his son attended VMI back in the 90's.

"I have nothing, but fond memories of the time I came and spent here at VMI and here in Lexington," says Justice Thomas.

Justice Thomas touched on a number of topics during his speech inside Lee Chapel.

He says while most Americans appreciate the constitution they don't exactly know what's in it.

"It is at least as easy to understand that great document as it is to understand a cell phone contract," says Thomas.

Justice Thomas also believes too many Americans expect too much from their government.

"The message today seems more like ask not what you can do for yourselves or your country, but what your country must do for you," says Thomas.

It's not everyday you get insight into the Supreme Court.

Thomas says justices base their decisions on what the original framers intended, not their personal opinions.

He criticizes judges who do.

"What restrains us from imposing our personal views and police preferences on our fellow citizens under the guise of constitutional interpretation," says Thomas.

During a question and answer period with the audience, Thomas was asked a lot of questions.

One dealt with whether the constitution allowed slavery.

"I don't think there was any question slavery was constitutional. Was it moral? No. Was it wrong? Yes, but it was there," says Thomas.

Thomas spoke to a crowd of nearly 300 people.

He received a number of standing ovations.

For now, the above story has a video report.

Americans not inclined toward sacrifice, Justice Clarence Thomas says

By Rex Bowman

Published: March 17, 2009

LEXINGTON -- Values eroding, Thomas says 'Little emphasis' on sacrifice, self-denial, justice says at W&L

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas told a crowd at Washington and Lee University yesterday that today's Americans seem little disposed to sacrifice during hard times -- even if the government asked them to do it.

"These days, there seems to be little emphasis on responsibility, sacrifice and self-denial," Thomas told about 300 people gathered in the Lee Chapel on campus.

Thomas is not a frequent public speaker, but last week he spoke at Howard University, and he said he came to W&L yesterday at the request of Robin Wright, a senior from Little Rock, Ark. Wright's mother is a federal district judge in Arkansas.

During his speech, Thomas contrasted the values Americans learned during his boyhood with today's values, which he suggested are more selfish and lead people to look too much to the government for help.

Growing up, he said, he constantly heard, "Learn to do without," "Prepare for a rainy day" and "No one owes you a living."

"Those truths permeated our lives," he said, so President John F. Kennedy's call for service resonated with everyone. "It all made sense."

"Today we live in a far different environment," he said, laying the blame on the "self-indulgent 'Me' generation of the 1960s."

"Rarely do we hear a message of sacrifice, unless it is used as a justification of taxation of others or a transfer of wealth to others."

Though Thomas mentioned no particular federal policies or politician, his criticism comes as President Barack Obama's administration is wrestling with a deepening recession and spending hundreds of billions of dollars to put people to work. Conservatives have lambasted the Obama stimulus package as a step toward socialism.

"Today the message seems to be, 'Ask not what you can do for yourselves and your country, but what your country can do for you,'" Thomas said.

Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Liberal?

That's the Los Angeles Times headline:
Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court liberal?
In a decision last week against the drug company Wyeth, it was the court's most conservative justice who most harshly criticized a Bush administration legal policy.
By David G. Savage

March 8, 2009

Reporting from Washington — The Supreme Court opinion that drew the most praise last week from a proudly "progressive" constitutional law group was written by perhaps the court's staunchest conservative, Justice Clarence Thomas.

Thomas would have gone further than the court's liberals in a decision that allowed injured patients to sue drug makers. In a 24-page concurrence, he said the court should have declared that judges have no authority to void state consumer-protection laws based on "agency musings" from Washington.

In this instance, Thomas was referring to the musings of the George W. Bush administration and its drive to limit lawsuits against manufacturers.

"We think Justice Thomas got it exactly right," said Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center. "A key part of our constitutional system is respect for the states in protecting the health and welfare of their citizens."

Thomas has never been shy about breaking with conventional wisdom -- even when it is the conservative consensus. Over the years, he has spelled out a distinctive approach in several areas of the law. And his views do not always yield predictably conservative results.

Four years ago, for example, the court, with Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy in the majority, upheld the power of federal agents to raid the homes of Californians who grow marijuana for their personal use -- legal under state law but not federal law. Thomas disagreed.

In earlier opinions, he disputed the broad reach of federal regulatory power, a view welcomed by some business groups. In the marijuana case, Thomas repeated the same view, but this time on the side of Angel Raich, an Oakland woman who challenged the federal raids.

"If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything," Thomas wrote in dissent. " . . . Our federalist system, properly understood, allows California and a growing number of other states to decide for themselves how to safeguard the health and welfare of their citizens."

Thomas is often alone on the current court as a steady advocate of limited federal power and respect for states' authority.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. are more inclined to side with federal authorities. Usually Thomas is squarely in the conservative camp with Roberts and Alito when a state's criminal laws are being challenged. He and Scalia rarely vote to limit a state's use of the death penalty.

But in some business cases, Thomas has split from his conservative colleagues.

The case decided last week, Wyeth vs. Levine, involved the recurring conflict between federal regulations and state liability law. Business groups -- and the Bush administration -- maintained that federal regulation of products should "preempt" or trump state laws.

Diana Levine won a $6.7-million Vermont jury verdict after part of her arm was amputated. She said drug maker Wyeth failed to fully warn the public about the danger of injecting the anti-nausea drug Phenergan. If it mixes with arterial blood, it can cause gangrene and lead to amputation.

The warning label said "extreme care" should be taken when injecting the drug. It did not warn against giving it by injection.

Wyeth appealed the verdict, arguing that jurors should not be permitted to "second-guess" the federal regulators who approved the drug and its warning label.

Roberts, Scalia and Alito agreed with Wyeth. Even if the Food and Drug Administration's decision was wrong, it should prevail, they said.

"After today's ruling, however, parochialism may prevail," Alito wrote for the dissenters.

The court's majority, led by Justice John Paul Stevens, said Congress did not intend to take away the right of injured patients to sue drug makers. Levine's jury verdict was affirmed.

Thomas went further and said the court should lay down a marker.

"I have become 'increasing[ly] reluctan[t] to expand federal statutes beyond their terms through doctrines of implied preemption,' " he wrote, quoting himself in an earlier Supreme Court case.

Unless Congress spells it out in the text of the law, Thomas said, the consumer's right to sue under state law should be protected.
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