Clarence Thomas says Supreme Court leak eroded trust in institution

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The leak of a draft abortion opinion has turned the Supreme Court into a place “where you look over your shoulder,” Justice Clarence Thomas said Friday night, and it may have broken the trust in the institution.

“What happened in court was extremely bad,” Thomas said in conversation with a former cleric at a conference of conservative and libertarian thinkers in Dallas. “I wonder how long we are going to have these institutions at the rate we are undermining them. And then I wonder when they’ll be gone or destabilized, what we’re going to have as a country. »

It was the second time in a week that Thomas denounced the decline in respect for “institutions”; he made similar remarks at a conference of judges and lawyers last week.

Thomas says respect for institutions is eroding

Thomas, 73, said the leak exposed the “fragile” nature of the court.

“The institution that I’m part of – if someone said that a line of opinion would be leaked by anyone, you’d say, ‘Oh, that’s impossible. Nobody would ever do that,” Thomas said. “There is such a belief in the rule of law, in justice, in what we do, that it was verboten.”

He continued, “And look where we are, where now that trust or that belief is gone forever. And when you lose that trust, especially in the institution I’m in, it fundamentally changes the institution. You start looking over your shoulder. It’s like a kind of infidelity, that you can explain it, but you can’t undo it.

He made the remarks Friday night at a conference sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute and the Hoover Institution. In front of an approving crowd, he was pointed and accusatory; he appeared to blame court clerks for leaking a draft opinion authored by Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. that would overturn Roe vs. Wadeand he was suspicious of some of his colleagues.

“Anyone who would have, for example, an attitude to release documents, that general attitude is your future on the bench,” Thomas said. “And you have to worry about that. And we’ve never had that before. In fact, we trusted – we may have been a dysfunctional family, but we were a family.

Just as Alito had done in a speech the night before at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School in Virginia, Thomas ignored the usual bonhomie that judges express about their colleagues – that they are in vigorous disagreement but respect and admire each other.

Asked about this by a caller, who wondered how a friendly respect for ideological differences could be encouraged in Congress and other institutions, Thomas replied, “Well, I’m just worried about keeping it in court now. “

As he had done the previous week, he praised a previous tribunal — one headed by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and with Justice Stephen G. Breyer as a junior member — as a “ fabulous court”. It ended with the appointment of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. after Rehnquist’s death in 2005, and now Thomas and Breyer, who is retiring at the end of the term, remain.

“It’s not the court of that era,” Thomas said. “I worked with Ruth Ginsburg for almost 30 years, and she was actually an easy coworker for me. You knew where she was, and she was a nice person to deal with. Sandra Day O’Connor, you can tell the same thing; David Souter, I can continue the list.

“The court that lasted 11 years was a fabulous court. It was the one you were looking forward to being a part of,” he said.

Thomas was in conversation with a former jurist, John Yoo, professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Yoo did not ask Justice about recent controversies involving Thomas’s wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, who was a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump and whose text exchanges with Trump’s chief of staff regarding the schemes legal challenges to challenge Trump’s 2020 election loss have come to light.

Before those numerous text messages were published by the Washington Post and CBS News, Thomas was the only member of the court to go along with Trump’s request to withhold White House documents from the congressional committee investigating the riot in January 6, 2021 at the US Capitol. . Thomas did not explain his vote in the short court order denying Trump’s emergency request, and Democrats in Congress cited his participation as evidence of the need for a strict code of ethics and recusal at the Supreme Court.

Thomas briefly recounted the battles with the left, which he said tried to keep him away from court “over abortion”. While saying during his confirmation of charges hearing that he never considered the accuracy of deerThomas joined an opinion a few months later saying the precedent should be overturned.

Thomas said the Conservatives have never used hardline tactics from the left.

“You would never visit Supreme Court justices’ homes when things weren’t going our way,” Thomas said. “We didn’t throw tantrums. I think it is incumbent on us to always act appropriately and not pay back tit for tat.

When asked if the Conservatives live by the ‘mantra’ of civility in politics, he replied: ‘They have never trashed a Supreme Court nominee. All they can say is that Garland wasn’t heard from, but he wasn’t trashed.

Thomas was referring to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who as an appeals court judge was President Barack Obama’s nominee for the court following Scalia’s 2016 death. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) , then Senate Majority Leader, declined to schedule a confirmation hearing.

“It was a rule that Joe Biden introduced, by the way, that you don’t get any audience in the last year of an administration,” Thomas said. He did not mention that Republicans pushed through the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg just weeks before Election Day in 2020.

Thomas did not speak directly about any of the issues before the court, but he was asked about stare decisis, the doctrine which generally says that previous court rulings must be respected and rarely overturned. It is discussed at length in Alito’s draft opinion which would reverse deer.

On the current ground, Thomas is the least faithful to the doctrine. “When someone uses stare decisis, it means they have no more arguments,” he said. “They’re just waving the white flag.”

At another point, he lamented those who lack “courage”. He continued: “As if they know what is right and are scared to death to do it. And then they find all these excuses not to do it. It was unclear whether he was referring to some of his fellow Tories, whom he has criticized in earlier opinions for not acting quickly enough to right what he saw as wrongs in earlier court rulings. .

Under Yoo’s interrogation, Thomas presented a familiar list of grievances: the liberal Yale Law School, where he graduated; intolerance of conservative views on college campuses; and “elites”.

In a room full of black conservatives, Thomas spoke about being free to make his own choices, which put him at odds with the political views of many other African Americans.

“People assume I had a hard time when I was around members of my race,” Thomas told Yoo. ” It’s quite the opposite. The only people I have had difficulty with are the white and liberal elites who see themselves as the anointed and us as the blind. . . . I have never had any problems with members of my race.

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