This article is meant to be a general tribute to Clarence Thomas, my favorite Supreme Court Justice.
In a hearing in mid-January, the Supreme Court considered the competency of the lawyers of the defendant. After hearing the lawyers had attended Harvard and Yale, Clarence Thomas was heard making a snide remark about the aptitude of Yale Law students. However, the stenographer at the court’s proceedings, recorded only “Well- he did not-” before laughter drowned out the rest of a surely wondrous insult. Oh, the possibilities of what this venerable Justice might have said. A few suggestions:
“get into Harvard.”
“know Harvard existed due to a horrible brain injury that forced him to attend Yale.”
According to the New York Times, experts on the Supreme Court say it has been more than 40 years since a justice remained silent during oral arguments for an entire term, much less seven years. Clearly, Justice Thomas felt his insult warranted this historic occasion.
The brilliant Clarence Thomas was, in fact, a Yale graduate. He was the very best kind of Yale student—the kind that proudly displays his “Yale Sucks” bumper sticker on the mantle of his chambers because he knew it firsthand. According to his memoir, the Justice “peeled a 15-cent price sticker off a package of cigars and stuck it on the frame of [his] law degree to remind [himself] of the mistake [he’d] made by going to Yale.”
Yet announcing the truth about Yale is not Justice Thomas’s only proud achievement. As a young man, Clarence Thomas had troubles with English, having spoken the African-English creole, Gullah, as a first language. So what does little Clarence Thomas do but major in English and graduate cum laude from Holy Cross University. Then in 1966 he registered for the Vietnam War draft. Yet he was rejected due to curvature of the spine. His show of backbone was not enough to straighten it.
Justice Thomas has not always been so reserved however. In fact, it was his alleged loquaciousness that got him into the biggest scandal of his career. After Thomas had been confirmed to the Supreme Court, hearings were reopened when testimony from a former coworker claimed that Thomas had sexually harassed her 10 years prior. Yet the charges were hard to prove. The testimony was only hearsay and all those who testified had left the firm on poor terms. Ultimately, the case was dismissed and the culprit who put his or her pubic hair on Thomas’s can of Coke was never brought to justice.
Perhaps this explains the Justice’s reticence now. Thomas justifies his notorious reservation on the grounds that “the media often has its own script." Indeed, during his initial years as Supreme Court Justice, many media pundits derisively called him Antonin Scalia’s understudy. However, upon closer examination, it would appear that Scalia often changed his view to align with Thomas rather than, as most believed, the other way around.
The Justice may take a consistently originalist approach to the constitution, but his relationships are anything but partisan… and all but adorable. The Justice is particularly close to Stephen G. Breyer, who happens to be diametrically opposed to Thomas ideologically. Yet the two are often seen in court whispering, trading quips, and passing notes. They are like the Supreme Court version of a 1980’s teen Rom-Com. When Breyer really hits it home, Thomas is heard releasing “The Laugh,” as his rolling baritone laughter is known to Supreme Court insiders.
To take a moment to point out Thomas’ weaknesses, however, his Achilles’ heel is probably his Achilles’ heel. In 1993, Thomas tore his Achilles tendon playing at a pickup game in the Supreme Court’s basketball court, commonly known as “the highest court in the land.”
I write this homage to my favorite Justice because it is important to remember what makes The Nine representative of the population. Try as you might, nine coveted and highly powerful positions will never accurately reflect the demographics of American race, creed, and gender. In fact, the justices are strikingly unrepresentative of American demographics. For all his quips about Yale, Clarence Thomas and the rest of the justices all are Harvard or Yale graduates who reside in the upper percentiles of intelligence. With six Catholics and three Jews, not a single Justice is Protestant, though Protestants make up half the country. What makes them “representative” of the population is what makes them human. What makes them human is also what makes them likeable. That’s why we should take a moment to learn what makes judges human after all.
Sarah R. Siskind ’14 is a government concentrator in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.