hang out with. At a Q&A with Chief Justice Roberts, when asked about working with the other justices of the Supreme Court, he indicated, if memory serves me, that Justice Thomas was one of his favorites, as well, because of the warm personality he brings to the Supreme Court’s chambers. His personality is warm, honest, and ingratiating, and in contrast to his cold-hearted originalism, he is the one who seems most interested in average America.
It is ironic, in some respects, that Justice Thomas votes, and writes, most often of all the judges in favor of the conservative principle of originalism. While Scalia, the justice who has most and best articulated originalism, has been accused of being a “faint-hearted” originalist, Justice Thomas has never had a problem calling for a return to what the Constitution meant when written. Whether you agree or not, this can be perceived as a cold response to the changes modern America has seen since the drafting of the Constitution some 234 years ago, and it is definitely a far cry from President Obama’s judicial philosophy that appoints jurists with “empathy.”
Is it really, though? Recently, Justice Thomas gave the key note address at the Utah State Bar summer convention. His reason for coming (and for the motor home he drives across the country on vacation when the Court is not in session):
“I’m convinced,” he said, “that part of (this job) is that when you consider the consequences of the decisions that we make, it does weigh on you and it does show you that there’s something so important that you’ve got to get it right. It does have an effect on you.
“(The Supreme Court) truly is a marble palace (because) we’re isolated. We’re isolated from the politics, we’re isolated from the city and in a lot of ways we’re isolated from the country. These trips allow me to come out and see the people who really matter in our government, and that is you all.”
For an originalist, this belies the cold-hearted rationale that would purportedly accompany a judicial philosophy that disregards the immediate plight of the plaintiff in favor of what the law says, blind and dispassionate. In my reading, it displays a great deal of empathy for Americans and a concern and awareness of the place that the Supreme Court has in American life.
However, despite this, Justice Thomas does not seem to think that this empathy means that the Court should, or does, play politics. Ten years after Bush v. Gore, the decision that ended the 2000 election and allowed George W. Bush to win the White House, Justice Thomas seemed to still smart from accusations that the Court was playing politics with the decision.
“I think (the politics) about Bush v. Gore is more (a creation) of what the media said about Bush v. Gore, which I think is unfortunate,” he said. “I think we have a tendency in this country to characterize institutions in ways that fit in a particular mode and fit a preconceived notion. … The interesting thing is, if you ask the members of the court, they may disagree, they may be upset, they may be passionate, but they would not say it’s politics.”
For a man often accused of being the courts quietest and most conservative justice, he evidently is willing to make his opinions about how the court, and his place on it, should be seen, or at least how he would like it seen. It may require the passage of time to show his real effect on the Court and on America, but for now, he is among the most personable Justices I know, on or off the court. And despite his dispassionate rulings from the bench (“The job of the judge is to figure out what the law says, not what he wants it to say,” Thomas has said), he is probably the justice most in touch with real America.
(Thanks to Deseret News)
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