How Clarence Thomas went from a 'fringe figure with extremist views' to the Court’s 'center of gravity': report

How Clarence Thomas went from a 'fringe figure with extremist views' to the Court’s 'center of gravity': report
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For many years, Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia were considered the fringe of the U.S. Supreme Court — far-right social conservatives who frequently butted heads with the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as well as right-wing libertarian Justice Anthony Kennedy, now retired. But with the High Court handing down one extreme decision after another in 2022, from overturning Roe v. Wade to limiting the Environment Protection Agency’s ability to regulate power plants, it’s obvious that the Court’s Thomas wing is now dominant.

Journalist David Smith, in an article published by The Guardian on July 10, emphasizes that Thomas, now 74, has become increasingly influential on the Court. According to Smith, the days when Thomas was regarded the Court’s “fringe figure with extremist views” are over — and the Court’s “center of gravity” has “moved his way.”

Edward Fallone, a law professor at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, told The Guardian, “By virtue of the fact that Clarence Thomas has been on the Supreme Court as long as he has, he has slowly gained much more influence and has now become the dominant ideological leader of the conservatives. He is certainly more confident and more muscular now that he has allies on his side, but he has been strikingly consistent over the decades. He simply waited for the rest of the conservative world to catch up to him.”

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Thomas, appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1991, has been on the Court for 31 years. His confirmation hearings were incredibly contentious, with a former employee, Anita Hill, accusing Thomas of sexual harassment — which he vehemently denied. Nonetheless, Thomas was confirmed, 52-48, by the U.S. Senate. At the time, the Senate Judiciary Committee was chaired by now-President Joe Biden.

It was during Donald Trump’s presidency, Smith notes, that Thomas’ influence on the Court grew considerably — and he became even more influential than Chief Justice John Roberts.

“Everything changed with the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and the appointment of Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett,” Smith explains. “This meant conservatives enjoyed a 6-3 majority and could afford to lose the vote of Roberts in pressing their right-wing agenda. Thomas began finding his voice both figuratively and literally. When the Court began hearing arguments by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic and changed the arguments’ format so justices asked questions one by one, he joined in. He has continued asking questions since the justices returned to their courtroom last autumn. Thomas, not Roberts, stamped his authority on the just completed term. He wrote an opinion that the Constitution protects an individual’s right to carry a handgun in public. His marathon 30-year effort to overturn Roe v Wade, the ruling that protected abortion rights nationwide, ended in victory despite widespread public opposition.”

Smith adds, “Even then, however, Thomas was not satisfied as he urged his fellow justices to revisit precedents acknowledging rights to same-sex marriage, gay sex and contraception. Amid national outrage, thousands of people signed a petition saying he should no longer be allowed to teach a class at George Washington University’s law school, but the university nixed the idea.”

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In 2022, an old quote from Thomas has been receiving a great deal of attention. The New York Times, back in 1993, reported that Thomas, in 1992, had told his law clerks, “The liberals made my life miserable for 43 years, and I’m going to make their lives miserable for 43 years.”

The actions of Thomas’ wife, far-right activist Ginni Thomas, have also called the justice’s motivations into question. After the 2020 presidential election, Ginni Thomas aggressively promoted Donald Trump’s Big Lie and falsely claimed that the election had been stolen from Trump. In a series of text messages exchanged with then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, she plotted to get the election results thrown out. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City has called for Thomas’ impeachment.

“Critics argue that Clarence Thomas should have recused himself from a case involving the (January 6) committee’s access to presidential documents and lawsuits challenging the election results,” Smith observes. “Democrats in Congress wrote, in a letter, that his participation is ‘exceedingly difficult to reconcile with federal ethics requirements.’”

But University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias doesn’t see Thomas’ influence on the Court decreasing anytime soon.

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Tobias told The Guardian, “Clarence Thomas has always been a mystery to many people. He has a long history on the Court and life experiences that are different from many but strongly held views. He’s articulated them, and so, he’s ascendant right now. It will take some time before the Court’s composition changes and before he is less influential.”

You can watch a video on Thomas below or at this link.

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