Thomas defends ideals of court

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas told a packed dinner crowd of Augusta's judges, lawyers and politicians Tuesday that while discourse in American society seems to be growing coarser and angrier, the Supreme Court remains a bastion of respectful disagreement that honors the justices of the past and the high ideals of its mission.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke at a dinner Tuesday and will talk at the courthouse dedication.   Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke at a dinner Tuesday and will talk at the courthouse dedication.

As he shifted from outtakes of his youth in rural Georgia to his early days practicing law, Thomas reserved much of his roughly 30-minute speech at the Augusta Bar Association's Law Day Banquet to draw a distinction between commentators and "cynics" who demonize those with opposite opinions with a Supreme Court that has not "disintegrated into the unfathomable conduct that we see in public discourse."

Specifically, Thomas seemed to answer critics of the court's decisions, adding that it often appears those talking about the decisions appear to have never read the cases.

"I think there is a disease of illiteracy or laziness, because just the commentary will tell you they haven't read it," Thomas said at the Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites.

Drawing on a college football metaphor, Thomas said those who talk about the court have already picked their team.

He said he avoids reading that type of work, but lamented that the public and most lawyers probably do not.

"You don't go to a Georgia fan to get commentary on the University of Florida, because it's not objective commentary," Thomas said. "Unfortunately, much of the commentary about the court is from the standpoint of people who have vested interests in particular outcomes, particular policies or particular results. Do you think you are getting an honest assessment?"

Serving as a Supreme Court justice is a "humbling experience" like no other, Thomas said. It is one that "teaches you ... you do not have all the answers."

It's an experience that provides much room to learn from others, he said.

Thomas recounted meeting with Justice Thurgood Marshall, whose retirement in 1991 led to Thomas' nomination by President George H.W. Bush.

"He said, 'I had to do in my time what I had to do. You have to do in your time what you have to do,' " Thomas recalled Marshall saying.

From Justice William Brennan, Thomas said, he learned to not "change your mind unless you're persuaded." And he learned from Justice Lewis Powell that "when you think you belong (in the Supreme Court), it's time to leave."

For most of his 20 years on the court, Thomas said, he has sat between two justices -- Ruth Bader-Ginsburg and David Souter -- with whom he rarely agrees but whom he still considers friends.

"Why?" Thomas said. "Because the process, the job of making the opinions is really difficult, and it is done as a team. We disagree, we tug, we pull. Every member that's been appointed by different presidents, with different points of view, has been a good person. How we have been this fortunate is beyond me."

Thomas speaks

Here are select quotes from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's speech to the Augusta Bar Association on Tuesday:

On judges and the law

"In my view, judging is something that is greater than each judge. It is something that affects our society in a way that nothing else we do can. We make decisions to change our country and our neighborhoods and our cities and states."

"In my view, when the country has been at its worst is when judges abandon their job as judges -- in order to be popular, to go along with fads . . ."

"We are given limited authority to judge our fellow citizens, and we are given that by our fellow citizens. They ask us them to keep from what? Arming themselves and fighting each other. Becoming lawless. We become that important point in a civil society that keeps people from each other's throats. We are the ones who are called upon to solve disputes in the past that have led to gunfights, wars, feuds. But we have also failed and we have rendered decisions that have led to wars, gunfights and feuds. That's when we have failed."

On the process of working with fellow justices

"In that room, when we discuss First Amendment, abortion, Second Amendment, death penalty, pre-emption, commerce clause, the cases of great consequence -- Bush v. Gore -- I still have yet to hear the first unkind word."

"If law is to have any integrity, we have to give it that integrity."

On so-called "cynics" in society

"There will always be people who will pick at the -- whether or not the system works. They are always negative. You have to wonder about these negative people. What exactly are they perfect at?"

"What monument is built for all that negativity? You are negative sometimes in order to make something better. You criticize it in a way to improve it. There are things wrong in this country that have to be improved, but you don't just keep nagging and nagging and nagging. But at some point it's got to stop. At some point too much is too much."


WHAT: Augusta Judicial Center and John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse dedication.

WHEN: Richmond County Superiour Court Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet will open the ceremony at 11 a.m. Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver will follow at 11:15 a.m., and U.S. SUpreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at 11:30 a.m.

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Craig Spinks
Craig Spinks 05/18/11 - 07:33 am
THANKS to Mr. Justice Thomas

THANKS to Mr. Justice Thomas for accepting an invite to visit our city again.

nerthus 05/18/11 - 07:55 am
He should be ashamed of

He should be ashamed of himself. He took advantage of every program he could but now tries to do away with those same programs and rights. He is certainly nothing like Judge Ruffin or Justice Marshall that he replaced. Ms. Hill was certainly right and it was a sad day in the United States when Justice Thomas was confirmed.

Riverman1 05/18/11 - 08:13 am
John Ruffin fought hard

John Ruffin fought hard against Jim Crow laws that segregated blacks, keeping them from even applying for decent jobs, voting or attending good colleges. As late as 1990 you could still see the traces of the word "colored" on what had been a separate waiting room for blacks at University Hospital. It was the legal system that permitted segregation to live. (By the way, I was the first person to suggest the courthouse be named after him. Thanks to Joe Bowles for casting the swing vote.)

Clarence Thomas would have fought hard against such laws just as he fights now against laws that discriminate on the basis of race. He has seen the dangers of legislated racism first hand and he listens intently when a case is made trying to use race as justification.

How silly we are to think people are different because of their race. Judge Thomas knows this and guards against the country slipping back into separate waiting rooms.

Mugatu 05/18/11 - 08:52 am
The best line from his speech

The best line from his speech was "The process of getting it right is more important than being right."

Crime Reports and Rewards TV
Crime Reports and Rewards TV 05/18/11 - 10:11 am
For all the Race Card

For all the Race Card throwers out there. Our president is Black, a Supreme Court justice is Black, our highest paid sports stars & entertainers are mostly black. Mexicans pouring across the border can barely speak the language are illegal and still send money home, buy new trucks and houses. What's your EXCUSE NOW? It's looming more and more like the reason why race card throwers keep throwing the race card is they are trying to make excuses for not getting to work and being successful. With this lineup of Successful blacks the race card throwers are now WITHOUT EXCUSE and have RUN out of CARDS. The jig is up; they've been busted by the Truth. They made up all these excuses for not being successful and now their fellow blacks proved them wrong.

Redfray 05/19/11 - 11:48 am
The most vital part of

The most vital part of society is integrity and what defines the integrity. Mr. Thomas gives us some hints to why it is going down hill for the American citizens. America started with a constitution that was well defined by the knowledge of learning in people debating the type of society needed to have a free society. Did it work for a number of years for America? So, when did the Clarence Thomas commit that the law was "disintegrated into the unfathomable" position it is in now? Was it before Mr. Thomas was placed on the highest court of the land or after? From some of his colleagues advice, it was before he joined the other judges who are the most intelligent and most pretstigious of there profession, accord to our elected officials. Marshall, had some advice that was interesting, "had to do in my time what I had to do", and you will need to do what you have to do. Does that sound like a fathomable way to measure the law? What about the ideal not to change your mind, doesn't that do away with debate or educational learning? Maybe the best answer for Clarence Thomas, as well as all the others is, study the law and make sure you follow the measurement imposed on society according to the constitution. That means all citizens get equal justice and when that doesn't happen, judges should be remove from the law profession forever. The law has been confiscated by its own profession who have disintegrated it into the unfathomable parts of chaotic order.

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