Clarence Thomas argued that justices were overstepping their role in rare public remarks about the court.
“The court was thought to be the least dangerous branch, and we may have become the most dangerous,” Thomas said.
Thomas also said that the “craziness” of his 1991 confirmation fight was “absolutely about abortion.”
In rare public remarks, Justice Clarence Thomas said on Thursday that the Supreme Court “may have become the most dangerous branch” of the federal government.
Clarence warned against “destroying our institutions” and spoke about his experiences with segregation in the South during his youth in a wide-ranging lecture at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
During a question-and-answer period, Thomas was asked what threats he foresaw to the autonomy of the judicial system. He responded that judges going “beyond” longstanding limitations had become a grave issue.
“When we do that, and we begin to venture into political, legislative or executive branch lanes and resolving things that are better left to those branches – where people actually have some input and some opportunity to participate in the electoral process as to who those leaders are,” Thomas said, “Those of us, particularly in the federal judiciary with lifetime appointments, are asking for trouble.”
“The court was thought to be the least dangerous branch, and we may have become the most dangerous,” he added. “And I think that’s problematic.”
Thomas also came to the court’s defense, emphasizing its independence amid criticism that the nine justices behave like politicians.
“It may work sort of like a car with three wheels, but still it works,” he said. “I think we should be careful of destroying our institutions because they don’t give us what we want when we want it.”
Thomas went on to say that much of the controversy during his own confirmation hearings in 1991 – when Anita Hill came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against him – was primarily about abortion.
“The craziness during my confirmation was one of the results of that. It was absolutely about abortion, a matter I had not thought deeply about at the time,” he said.
The comments come two weeks after a high-profile ruling, in which the Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote declined to block a controversial Texas abortion law from going into effect. Thomas voted in the majority. A new poll released on Wednesday showed that the court’s approval ratings had sunk to an all-time low.
Thomas’ colleagues, Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Stephen Breyer, have also publicly pushed back on criticism of the court in recent days.
“My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks,” Barrett said on Sunday at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center, a department founded by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“A lot of people will strongly disagree with many of the opinions or dissents that you write, but still, internally, you must feel that this is not a political institution,” Breyer told The Washington Post on Monday.
Thomas’ full address is available here:
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