WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Americans are living in an atmosphere of “cynicism” and “negativism” right now, which is “destructive” to society.
He also lamented America’s attachment to “faux diversity.”
“People can profit from that – they can get you worked up. They got me worked up. They can even organize around it and it may feel initially like a drug and give you this sort of sense that you are empowered, but it’s also destructive, it’s destructive of you and it’s destructive of people around you,” Thomas said at the Federalist Society’s recent National Student Symposium.
“I think to do the hard work, to have a civil society, it’s got to be more positive, it’s got to be more something you are for, not against, and at some point, if you are going to have a country, you’ve got to have something to be for,” he added.
Thomas said the “only reason to continue” serving as a judge is for “the ideal, for the things you believe in.”
“I think we’ve got to focus on that a bit more,” he said. “What do we believe in? What do we stand for as a country? What do we want the law to stand for? Not these platitudes that don’t mean anything. Everybody is for everybody being happy, so what? That doesn’t really move the dial any. You’ve got to actually do something.”
Thomas said young people and adults have a role to play in creating a more positive atmosphere in the country.
“We have an obligation to look for that ideal for which we are fighting, for which we are working and then to work toward it in a positive way,” he said. “I don’t think you can have a society where we’re constantly cynical or negative in the way that we are. You certainly couldn’t have a court – you mentioned Justice Sotomayor or Justice Ginsberg, and she’s not my enemy. She’s my colleague with whom I respectfully disagree.”
He continued, “As adults, we’ve got to set the example, but the younger people have to set their own pattern by being positive.”
Thomas also discussed the importance of having Supreme Court law clerks that aren’t from Ivy League schools.
“I just don’t really like the faux diversity that we’re all attached to now where you look at somebody’s skin color or this person, these immutable characteristics, and say, ‘oh, that’s diversity because this person’s black or this person’s a woman or this person’s this or that.’ I think when you’re talking about intellectual pursuits you are talking about how people think about things, how they reason about things,” he said.
Thomas said he does not have any Ivy League law clerks this year.
“It is fascinating to have kids from a lot of different backgrounds and I also think up at the court we are Ivy League-heavy,” he said. “And I truly believe there are smart kids in a lot of different places – that’s not to denigrate the Ivies.”