Saturday marks 30 years since Clarence Thomas joined the United States Supreme Court as an associate justice.
I was a kid at the time, but still remember the appalling hearings where some Senate Judiciary Committee chairman named Joseph R. Biden lied to Thomas about his intentions during a hellacious smear campaign.
To commemorate the milestone, The Heritage Foundation held an event Thursday where Thomas shared anecdotes like this one involving the late Justice Antonin Scalia:
Justice Clarence Thomas on Antonin Scalia: "He said, 'Clarence, you like classical music?' I said, 'Oh, I sure do.' He said, 'Come to the Kennedy Center.' I said, 'Oh yeah, but I don't like people who like classical music.'" #SCOTUS (h/t @mikeallen) pic.twitter.com/fCvwmbinup
— Jeremy Art (@cspanJeremy) October 22, 2021
Thomas was introduced by Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, who called him a “legal titan,” before the Kentucky Republican offered a few more pointed remarks.
The justice said it was “an absolute joy” to “celebrate this moment, not because of me, but because of you all and what we are trying to defend in this great country.”
“I decided at the ripe old age of 16,” Thomas wrote back in 1986, “that it was better to be respected than liked. Popularity is unpredictable and vacillating. Respect is constant and may lead to popularity but it is not dependent on it.”
Over more than four decades of public service across all three branches of government — Senate legislative assistant and multiple roles in the Reagan administration before becoming a judge — the Georgia native has earned that respect by consistently holding to his principles despite intense opposition, including bigotry from his own community and cultural elites trying to erase him.
Thomas is one of the most impressive men to sit on the bench, not just because of his top intellect, but also because of his humility. I suppose such humbleness was achieved through adversity, like being born into endemic poverty in the segregated South, and then, at age 43, enduring a nationally-televised “high-tech lynching” by angry Democrats.
Famously taciturn, his opinions do not often attract massive support or even a response from his colleagues. Thomas believes in limited government, thus a judiciary restrained by the Constitution, not one controlling it.
Because his opinions take aim at targets far and wide, it is difficult to come up with a legal area where Thomas hasn’t made his mark. He’s rejected aspects of criminal procedure, dismissed substantive due process, and believes the Establishment Clause is fatally flawed.
Ordinary folks still tend like him. Mowing my lawn Friday afternoon, I casually asked my neighbor what he thought of Clarence Thomas.
“I admire him because he’s a self-made man who stayed true to the rule of law and to his faith,” Steve Kron succinctly replied. “He doesn’t change with the winds of the day but remains as a pillar of judicial integrity.”
And there you have it. Happy anniversary, Justice Thomas.