Clarence Thomas: Only God Matters?

Three associate justices, one judge sworn in (Birmingham News)

Three new associate justices of the Alabama Supreme Court and one judge of the Court of Civil Appeals took oaths of office Friday in ceremonies at Troy University’s Davis Theatre. The 1,200-seat theater was packed with relatives and friends of new justices Tom Parker, Mike Bolin and Patricia M. Smith, and civil appeals judge Tommy Bryan.

Many stood and applauded former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore as he walked to the stage to administer the oath to Parker. Moore’s action was ceremonial, since Parker took his formal oath of office Thursday before U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in Washington. Parker said Thomas told him a judge should be evaluated by whether he faithfully upholds his oath to God, not to the people, to the state or to the Constitution.

Did Thomas actually say this? One would certainly hope not.

(via Sam Heldman via Duncan “Atrios” Black)

Update (1252): In a follow-up post, Atrios quotes the actual transcript of Parker’s account:

PARKER: “Just moments before I placed my hand on the Holy Scripture, Justice Thomas soberly addressed me and those in attendance. He admonished us to remember that the worth of a justice should be evaluated by one thing, and by one thing alone: whether or not he is faithful to uphold his oath _ an oath which as Justice Thomas pointed out is not to the people; it’s not to the state; it’s not even to the Constitution, which is one to be supported, but is an oath which is to God Himself.”

Atrios is right that this is markedly different than what the News reported and believes it let’s Thomas “off the hook.” Agreed. While I share Atrios’ unease with this “civil deism,” it is a custom of our Republic predating its founding to invoke religion to bolster public oaths. Given Thomas’ devout Catholicism and the audience to whom he was speaking, I don’t begrudge him emphasizing the religious nature of the oath.

Update (1738): Steve at Southern Appeal has quite a bit of background on Parker and is disappointed that Thomas lent his credibility to the man’s inauguration.

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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.


  1. Hal says:

    I think the only surprising thing is that any one is surprised to find this out.

  2. McGehee says:

    Something tells me the reporter got this wrong — to me it seems more in character for Roy Moore to have said that, since he’s been saying it all along in his Ten Commandments fight.

    Thomas, on the other hand, soesn’t have that kind of history that I’m aware of, making Hal’s comment unsurprising in its irrelevance.

  3. I agree with McGehee–that sounds like something Roy Moore would say (and Parker channels Moore on a regular basis).

    And Hal: there really is no evidence to suggest that Thomas holds this view. It would surprise me if he said it.

    I don’t trust Parker, so take this with a shaker of salt.

  4. ken says:

    Why would anyone think Parker, who clearly believes in the ten commandments (why else have Moore ceremoneously swear him into office?) lie about what Clarence Thomas told him?

    Thomas is a nut. This is perfectly consistent with what a nutjob would say. I don’t know for a fact Thomas said such a thing but I find Parkers account believable.

  5. bryan says:


    Thomas is no nut. He’s a devout catholic who spent time in seminary before moving on to the practice of law. His family were poor (and I mean *really* poor) sharecroppers in Georgia’s Gulla Gulla population, and he’s currently raising a grand-nephew whose mother couldn’t care for him.

    It would be more appropriate to surmise that Ken is a nut, or the Raving Atrios than Thomas.

  6. McGehee says:

    It would be more appropriate to surmise that Ken is a nut…

    Yes. Like Moore (and apparently Parker) he has a history.

  7. Jon H says:

    Note, there’s no requirement that one swear on the Bible.

    One can give a non-religious affirmation, instead of a religious oath. The words “so help me god” are merely custom, and do not appear in the legal text of the oath or affirmation of office for government positions.

    I suppose it’s a good thing, though, for a Christian to believe the oath is binding between himself and his god.