Clarence Thomas Worries Respect for Institutions Fading

In other news, there's gambling going on at Casablanca.

WaPo, “Clarence Thomas says he worries respect for institutions is eroding

Justice Clarence Thomas said Friday that the judiciary is threatened if people are unwilling to “live with outcomes we don’t agree with” and that recent events at the Supreme Court might be “one symptom of that.”

Thomas, speaking to judges and lawyers at the 11th Circuit Judicial Conference, did not speak directly about the leak of a draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, a colossal breach of the court’s procedures.

But he referred a couple of times to the “unfortunate events” of the past week, and in a question-and-answer session led by a former clerk, he said he worried about declining respect for institutions and the rule of law.

“It bodes ill for a free society,” he said. It can’t be that institutions “give you only the outcome you want, or can be bullied” to do the same, he said.

The court’s longest-serving justice said he also worried about a “different attitude of the young” that might not show the same respect for the law as past generations did. “Recent events have shown this major change,” he said.

In the abstract, I agree with Thomas here: we have an independent judiciary and the highest court is routinely going to be asked to settle very hard questions, often balancing strong competing interests. If we’re going to have tantrums—threatening to pack the court or to simply ignore its rulings—every time an opinion comes down that we don’t like, the rule of law is diminished.

But, of course, none of this is happening in a vacuum.

The process for vetting, nominating, and confirming federal judges—and, especially, Supreme Court justices—has become increasingly politicized. Thomas himself was seated despite credible sexual harassment allegations. A Democratic President was denied a hearing on a nominee in order to hold the seat open. And then a Republican President who lost by two million votes was able to fill that seat and two more—including an 11th-hour appointment to replace the court’s liberal lion.

Presuming the leaked draft opinion holds, Thomas and four others—three of whom were part of the aforementioned tranche—will have violated one of the most sacred tenets of his institution in overturning a 49-year-old precedent that established a new Constitutional right. And done so in a rather sneering manner.

And that’s to say nothing of the attempt to steal a goddamn presidential election in which Thomas’ wife was an active participant and he at least a silent bystander. Talk about your “bullying” and lack of respect for institutions!

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Supreme Court, US Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Moosebreath says:

    “And that’s to say nothing of the attempt to steal a goddamn presidential election in which Thomas’ wife was an active participant and he at least a silent bystander.”

    Or about Thomas’s flagrant disregard for the financial disclosure requirements of his office.

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  2. wr says:

    It’s clear. Thomas should be free to do whatever he wants, impose his personal religious view on the entire country, and of anyone criticizes him, well, that’s the end of civil society.

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  3. Kathy says:

    .. if people are unwilling to “live with outcomes we don’t agree with”..

    Does he mean the 50-year tantrum against Roe, or his wife’s group that tried to steal an election?

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  4. Mikey says:

    “Man Who Helped Set Fire Worried Building Will Burn Down.”

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  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    Yiddish has a word that describes Thomas’ statements, Hutzpah.

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  6. gVOR08 says:

    Ginny has become a prime suspect in the leak. I’ve not found the evidence very convincing, but it wouldn’t be surprising either. In any case, the Thomases have done pretty much all they could to destroy respect for the Court. Respect isn’t something the little people owe you, it’s something you earn.

    I’ve suspected the Court would do a two step – overturn Texas’ law over it’s absurd vigilante provision to show how reasonable they are, but hold for Mississippi. Now it smells like they may hold out Alito’s draft as proof that some less absolute final decision is reasonable.

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  7. Arm The Homeless says:

    Leaving aside the fact that Uncle Thomas is a vengeful troll and his wife is a drunk cultist I was particularly puzzled by one of his quotes during his most recent talk amongst fellow southern doughy fascists:

    One of the things I had to learn in New England was bad manners

    Considering that he had to go North since the Southern legal establishment hated his very existence, what is this supposed to mean?

    Is he saying that his time up North taught him to be a boorish arsehole? Is he saying that he was taught to be tough and brash as opposed to what he was taught down on the farm?

    I just hope Thomas lives long enough to see his legal determinations tossed in the trash where they belong.

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  8. Scott says:

    And that’s to say nothing of the attempt to steal a goddamn presidential election in which Thomas’ wife was an active participant and he at least a silent bystander. Talk about your “bullying” and lack of respect for institutions!

    I have to say that I like an angry James Joyner.

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  9. drj says:

    Justice Clarence Thomas said Friday that the judiciary is threatened if people are unwilling to “live with outcomes we don’t agree with”

    “Living with outcomes we don’t agree with” is normally part of what it means to live in a democracy, i.e., to accept that one can be in the minority and that the majority has a right to rule.

    But Thomas twists this principle into an argument that seeks to validate minority rule.

    The man isn’t stupid. He knows what he is doing.

    What a vile, shameless, mendacious piece of shit.

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  10. And that’s to say nothing of the attempt to steal a goddamn presidential election in which Thomas’ wife was an active participant and he at least a silent bystander. Talk about your “bullying” and lack of respect for institutions!

    Indeed.

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  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    Some Jewish friends describe chutzpah as “murdering your parents and then begging the mercy of the court as an orphan”.

    Yep.

    There’s a curious literalism at play here, it seems to me. It’s as if he, and others, expect that a title after his name should produce respect. But that’s not how it works. Respect comes from behavior, not titles.

    It’s oddly similar to how “sovereign citizens” seem to think. They think of certain words and phrases as incantations which should have a particular effect. But that’s not how the law works, as it has been described to me.

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  12. Scott F. says:

    Justice Clarence Thomas said Friday that the judiciary is threatened if people are unwilling to “live with outcomes we don’t agree with”…

    Maybe there’s a less pretentious way to say “people just need to accept the judgement of their betters,” but Thomas decided to go here instead.

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  13. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Scott F.: Well, what Thomas says describes me as I have lived with numerous policy choices I don’t agree with. What it doesn’t describe is so many of the people of his own party who created this situation.

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  14. Scott F. says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    I also have lived with numerous policy choices I don’t agree with as well. And I have been willing to accept those policies when there is underlying justification that can be defended with data, precedent, or social science that can be explained to me. I have also been willing to accept to the popular will in the absence of those justifications. Thomas is describing accepting an outcome favored by a minority because “an Institution” told you so.

    As you note, his party won’t accept outcomes regardless of science, norms, and especially, the majority position in a democracy. The institutions the Republicans control (and only those they control BTW) are what they will claim to have the legitimacy needed to dictate terms to everyone else.

    It is a maximally sanctimonious position.

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  15. wr says:

    @Jay L Gischer: “It’s as if he, and others, expect that a title after his name should produce respect. But that’s not how it works. Respect comes from behavior, not titles.”

    It’s actually worse than that. Because for years the reactionary caucus on the Court HAS been granted enormous respect simply because of the titles after (before?) their names. They have destroyed that respect, something that long seemed impossible, by their egregious behavior.

    In this case it’s not so much that respect had to be earned but that disrespect was earned.

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  16. Jay L Gischer says:

    @wr: Uh, well, I never really held much respect for Clarence Thomas. I did not think him fit to shine the shoes of Thurgood Marshall, even before the Anita Hill thing. Nothing he has ever done while seated on the Court has changed my opinion on that.

    His appointment was my biggest beef with HW.

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  17. DK says:

    More proof of the imperious arrogance Clarence Thomas shares with Alito. It’s they who have no respect for the rule of law, and further, they have no respect for the American people.

    The Court’s illegitimate majority clearly thinks they are kings and gods answerable to no one, above the law, above the people, and above the constitution. They truly believe the American people are their subjects — that we are just supposed to shut up, acquiesce to their vile edicts, and silently accept their abrogation of our rights to privacy and autonomy.

    Thomas and Alito keep proving their contempt for the concepts underpinning our democratic republic, especially ‘consent of the governed.’ They do not care that the constitution begins with “We The People.”

    And then to attack “the young” for alleged lack of commitment to American law in comparison to “past generations” that *checks notes* twisted law to deny freedom and equality to women, people of color, and gays (among others) is just stupid.

    Clarence Thomas and his ilk in the radical right, forced birth gerontocracy are wrong. They are liars. They are amoral hypocrites. And they are not nearly as smart as they think they they are.

    This tyrannical minority is in for a very rude awakening if they think they are going to impose their extremist religious views on America’s majority and American youth.

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  18. wr says:

    @DK: “Thomas and Alito keep proving their contempt for the concepts underpinning our democratic republic, especially ‘consent of the governed.”

    I keep thinking of Alito’s use of the writings of a 17th century English jurist who sentenced women to burn to death as witches as partial justification for his ruling.

    No one has ever called him stupid, so he knows that this man’s writings from a century before the creation of this country can have no effect on our Constitution. So why include it?

    I think it was pure trolling. He’s saying “I’m going to outlaw abortion, and I don’t actually have to bother to make a real case to do it. Hell, I can base it on the writings of a witch-burner who’s been dead for 600 years — and there’s nothing you can do about it. ‘Cause I’ve got a 6-3 majority, I’m making it almost impossible for people to vote against my party, and what have you got? Joe Manchin.

    Oh, and yes, how dare you not treat this court with the dignity and respect it deserves!”

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  19. gVOR08 says:

    @Arm The Homeless:

    I just hope Thomas lives long enough to see his legal determinations tossed in the trash where they belong.

    Not me. I’d prefer he depart while we have a D prez and 50 Ds in the Senate to facilitate having his determination trashed.

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  20. DK says:

    @wr:

    Oh, and yes, how dare you not treat this court with the dignity and respect it deserves!”

    Yup. They actually think like this, and it’s hilarious. Comedy.

    1
  21. Slugger says:

    His attitude is interesting. Maybe if you are obviously outstanding in a small town in Georgia and still one of the best at a small Catholic college, going to Yale Law where you are rather ordinary student is disconcerting. I’ve met some Yalies, and they are not slow to issue a put-down. He might still be trying to get back at those guys.

  22. Chris says:

    To see where the fault lies in the eroding respect for our institutions, Clarence Thomas should start by looking in the mirror.