Thomas Should Fly The Flag More

SOUTH BEND – Appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President George Bush 41 in 1991, Justice Clarence Thomas this month celebrates his 30th anniversary of service.

He’s on his way to being – before this decade is out – the longest-serving justice in American history.

During his three decades, Thomas has done many things.

Speaking at the University of Notre Dame on Sept. 16, he recalled that giving speeches isn’t something he does frequently.

He said he should visit college and university campuses more than he does.

One reason he doesn’t do more public speaking is that he writes out his speeches, which takes a long time, and he doesn’t “recycle” them.

Thomas said Justice Antonin Scalia, his late colleague, urged him to get out and “fly the flag” more.

Scalia is right.

And Thomas is particularly right that he should visit college and university campuses more.

Judges and justices are like other people in that some are good speakers, and some aren’t.

Thomas’s Notre Dame speech is at https://www.c-span.org/video/?514679-1/justice-clarence-thomas-remarks-university-notre-dame. It’s vintage Thomas and worth watching.

In short, as his Notre Dame speech reveals, Thomas is a good speaker. He can be particularly engaging on campuses.

At Notre Dame, for example, he wove into his prepared remarks, and into answers to audience questions, stories about his and his wife’s adventures in their recreational vehicle, a 30 year-old bus that they’ve driven to more than 40 states.

Thomas loves visiting “flyover country.”

At one truck stop, he met a trucker who recognized him. The trucker said he’d always heard Thomas was “a big rigger” like him yet never thought they’d meet.

Thomas has a way, sometimes jovial, of telling such stories that draws an audience in.

This, however, isn’t just about style. Thomas’s message, including his message at Notre Dame, needs to be heard far and wide.

Thomas, moreover, doesn’t need a new, written-out speech whenever he stands at a lectern.

He’s not issuing something on the order of a papal encyclical every time he speaks. Not even the pope does that.

What Thomas needs is a good stump speech – or a few of them – that can vary with his audiences and as new issues arise.

He can do this. The country he loves will benefit from it.

At Notre Dame, he recalled that condescending media assumed that on the Supreme Court, he was Scalia’s flunky.

Thomas said this bothered him less than it bothered Scalia, in part because Scalia wasn’t used to bigotry, while Thomas was.

Thomas also recalled that in the 1950s and 1960s, there was an abiding love for the country despite the state of the laws.

There was a sense that everyone was entitled to the full blessings of citizenship, he said. “In God’s eyes, we were inherently equal, and that was that.”

Our duty was to love our country despite its shortcomings, and we were not to disinherit ourselves by rejecting our country, he said. “We were not to act badly because others had acted badly.”

Radical theories of his young adulthood were destructive and self-defeating, he said. All are children of God and duty bound to live up to full and equal citizenship.

He noted that the Declaration of Independence has long-held truths, plus an ideal that citizens are duty bound to uphold and sustain.

Asked by an audience member to name the greatest threat to the judiciary, he said that some people expect too much from it, in part by asking it to solve questions that aren’t courts’ business.

A significant misconception of the judiciary – particularly in the press – is that the judiciary makes policy, he said. Some think judges are like politicians.

To those with such a misconception, if the outcome of a case is what they like, the decision is another Marbury v. Madison, and if not, “it’s Dred Scott all over again,” he said. “It’s all just personal preferences.”

Dr. Randy Elf’s most recent U.S. Supreme Court brief is at https://works.bepress.com/elf/84.



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