President Clarence Thomas?

Clarence Thomas professes not to enjoy being on the Supreme Court. So, Kashmir Hill and David Lat suggest, why not resign and run for the White House?

The Republican Party is in disarray, with no clear message — as shown in last week’s primaries — and with no obvious candidate to challenge President Obama in 2012. Thomas could be the GOP’s new standard-bearer. He has enviable name recognition, both as a long-serving justice and as the author of the bestselling 2007 autobiography “My Grandfather’s Son.” And he has already survived the nasty political attacks that marked his 1991 confirmation hearings.

A Thomas candidacy would bring racial diversity and a moving personal story to the Republican ticket. Thomas was born into poverty in Pin Point, Ga. He didn’t have indoor plumbing until he moved to Savannah to live with his grandparents at age 7.


Thomas is well suited for political office. On the nation’s highest court, he has had to reflect and rule on the country’s most divisive issues. He also has political experience predating the court. He worked as an assistant attorney general in Missouri and then for the Reagan administration in the Department of Education and as head of the EEOC.

And it’s clear that Thomas prefers the open road over cloistered chambers. During the court’s summer recesses, he enjoys driving around the country in his motor home, parking at Wal-Marts and seeing “a part of real America,” as his wife put it in an interview with WNYC’s “The Takeaway.” Thomas says he loves it because it “gets you out among your fellow citizens.” The justice could spend the next two years in his RV, simply adding a sign to its side: “Vote Clarence Thomas!”


Thomas’s presidential platform would have broad appeal, especially among Republican primary voters. His libertarian leanings are reflected in his judicial opinions, such as his questioning of the federal government’s regulatory authority under the commerce clause. And a bonus for Ayn Rand fans: Thomas traditionally makes his law clerks watch “The Fountainhead” after they arrive in chambers.

Let’s leave aside that we have no reason to think Thomas has any interest whatsoever in subjecting himself to a presidential campaign and take the scenario at face value.

Hill and Lat dismiss out-of-hand the fact that resigning would allow President Obama to replace him on the Court with someone much more liberal because, “Obama has not nominated hard-core liberals to the court; his recent choice of Solicitor General Elena Kagan disappointed many on the left.”   But these were young liberals replacing old liberals.   That’s a very different thing, indeed, than replacing one of the Court’s staunchest conservatives with a moderate, young liberal.

Much less that doing this would cost him much of the good will he’s built with conservative voters over the years.

Beyond all that, Thomas is an incredibly polarizing figure.   The Anita Hill scandal continues to haunt him, unfairly or not.

Yes, a black conservative with his up from poverty story would be quite compelling, indeed.  He might — although I’m not convinced of this — manage to attract some significant number of black votes except for the fact that he’d be running against Barack Obama if nominated.    And, frankly, there’s some percentage of the conservative base who would be quite reluctant to vote for a black man — let alone one married to a white woman.

If Thomas wants to retire and drive around America in his Winnebago — and again, I have no reason to think he does! — that’s great.   But he missed his chance during the Bush years and will have to wait until at least 2013 for another Republican to choose his replacement.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Law and the Courts, 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. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. sam says:

    I know he doesn’t like to ask questions on important matters — I wonder if he’d like to answer some.

  2. Ugh says:

    AFAICT the main reason Thomas stays on the Supreme Court is to stick it to the liberals who treated him so badly during his confirmation hearings. He would never leave voluntarily and let a democrat name his replacement.

  3. As Sam notes, he doesn’t like to speak that much in the public manifestations of the Court, and yet someone thinks he would want to campaign for the presidency? That’s plain nuts.

  4. If you read his autobiography, which I actually highly recommend, you’ll realize that active politics is about the last thing he’d be interested in.

  5. An Interested Party says:

    “Clarence Thomas professes not to enjoy being on the Supreme Court.”

    The poor dear…and to think he went through a high-tech lynching just for this? What a shame…

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    Not only should Thomas resign immediately to begin focusing on his campaign, he should ask Scalia to be his Veep.

    Thomas/Scalia 2012! If they’ll quit today I will donate a few hundy.