Justice Clarence Thomas is a distinguished Supreme Court jurist. He is also a distinguished member of the Supreme Court, serving 30 years. This makes him the 16th longest-serving justice among the 115 men or women who served on it. He will surpass Justice William O. Douglas as the longest-serving justice if he continues to serve until May 20, 2028.
It is difficult to describe, let alone evaluate, a 30-year-old judicial record. But Thomas's record of judicial service continues. A few highlights of his tenure on the Supreme Court are noteworthy.
Thomas wrote Gamble v. United States a concurring opinion. He described the small task of judicial interpretation and application as follows: "We interpret and apply written laws to the facts in particular cases. The difficult issue, however, has been how judges should carry out this small task since America's founders created our system of government.
Thomas has always been very clear about the correct answer. The confirmation hearing for Thomas before the Senate Judiciary Committee opened Sept. 10, 1991. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) stated, "I am confident that Judge Thomas interprets the law according to the original meaning of the law rather than substituting his policy preferences for it."
These are the two main interpretive options: either interpreting the words of the law author or imposing a meaning on the law by the judges. Thomas supports the former and rejects it.
In 1991, many reporters and commentators portrayed it as if it was a personality quirk. They described Thomas as being marching to a different drummer than his colleagues or as someone who is not familiar with Thomas's judicial philosophy. His judicial philosophy is deeply rooted within the principles of America's founding.
A profile of Mr. Constitution quoted him as saying: "I don't put myself in any category." Perhaps I'm called an originalist, but I don't feel that I have the right to place my own gloss on your constitution. My job is to interpret it.
Clarence Thomasseen, Supreme Court Justice, greeting Marilyn Quayle, former Vice President Dan Quayle, on the West Front of the Capitol. This was before Donald Trump was sworn-in as president to mark his 30th anniversary at the court. (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ roll Call/Getty Images
Thomas applies his knowledge of the judicial job description in each case. Thomas isn't satisfied that the court has reached the right outcome, but he insists on achieving it in the right manner. Thomas, who was a judge years earlier than he became a judge in 1988, questioned how the Supreme Court arrived at its decision (with which Thomas complied) in Brown v. Board of Education.
He wrote that this opinion was a miss opportunity because it was more based on psychological or sociological evidence of the effects of segregation rather than on the constitutional principle equality.
This is just one example of Thomas's ability to show that he cares more about substance than appearance. Supreme Court observers have noticed that Thomas does not ask many questions during oral arguments. National Public Radio made the headline Clarence Thomas asks his first question in 10 years on February 16, 2016.
However, the Supreme Court's 30 minute interaction with each side is only a fraction of their work on a particular case. Thomas stated that he would rather listen to lawyers than to himself and his fellow justices.
Thomas is the most dedicated when it comes the court's most important work, the written opinion explaining the decision.
According to data compiled and published by SCOTUSblog.com Thomas has written more than 700 opinions in the past 10 terms.
The Harvard Law Review compiles and publishes statistics for every Supreme Court term. This includes the number of pages per justice's opinion. Thomas was ranked first, second or third for a majority terms where data were available.
Justices may ask questions in oral arguments that may reflect their thoughts, or be relevant to the case. However, a justice's written opinion is the final word, regardless of whether it is for him or for a majority of judges.
Thomas was able to write a single dissent in a case that was argued less three weeks after his election. This is unlike most other new justices. The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Dawson v. Delaware that the membership of convicted murderers in the Aryan Brothers was not relevant and should not be considered when determining whether to impose death penalty. Thomas disagreed and argued that jurors don't lose their knowledge of the world when they enter courtrooms, and that they don't need the obvious to be explained in detail.
As in Dawson v. Delaware Chief Justice William Rehnquist authored the opinion in Missouri. Jenkins. This decision ended nearly twenty years of judicial control over almost every aspect of education within the Kansas City school districts in the name of Racial Integration. Thomas wrote this lone concurrence: It never ceases amaze me that courts are so willingly to assume that anything which is predominantly black must have inferior quality. It should now be obvious that one-racial schools does not necessarily mean that the State is practicing segregation.
Thomas brings his perspective, experience, and background to bear in the cases of Missouri v. Jenkins and Dawson v. Delaware. However, he does so in a way that informs and supplements his judgment, not controls or drives it.
He believes that the judicial task is the same as the Constitution and statutes. His job is to interpret them (understand what the author meant by the words he wrote) and apply them to each case. He wrote that judges don't forget their world knowledge when they go into courtrooms, as he did in Dawson v. Delaware. Judges need to be able to distinguish between their legal knowledge and that of the world.
This distinction has been noted by others. Judge Robert Smith, who was a judge on New York's highest court for ten years, wrote an essay entitled Why I Admire Justice Thomas 2009 This is how he came to his conclusion: by reading Thomas opinions. When President Barack Obama nominated Justice Sonia Sotomayor, he said that justice was not about abstract legal theories or footnotes in a casebook but about the everyday realities of people's lives.
This understanding does not necessarily mean that the less sympathetic party wins every case, or that the law is used to advance a conservative or liberal political agenda. Understanding the long-term and deep implications of a legal ruling that will impact future cases is key. Justice Thomas excels in this area.
It was an honor to host Justice Clarence Thomas, the great justice of the Supreme Court, to commemorate the 30th anniversary his confirmation.
Full remarks: https://t.co/QpBq6Fjs9X pic.twitter.com/lPfeMUzPrR Heritage Foundation (@Heritage) October 22, 2021
Thomas spent 19 months before joining the Supreme Court on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. Circuit. He and I spoke shortly after he joined that court about the differences he saw in his judicial position from his previous role as head of an executive branch organization. Thomas reminded me every day that when I don that robe, I'm only a judge.
While it's easy for others to be willing to speak this to a judge. It is more difficult for a judge not to do this to himself. Justice Clarence Thomas will have a lasting impact on the nation and liberty.
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