Clarence Thomas: The Best and Most Incorruptible Supreme Court Justice in U.S. History

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116 people have served on the Supreme Court and Justices Thomas is the best

Steven Calabresi |

Justice Clarence Thomas has served for 32 years on the U.S. Supreme Court where he has been a consistent originalist who has led the Court to move in his direction on issues as varied as the Confrontation Clause; federalism; executive power; and the reining in of the administrative state.  He has written hundreds, if not thousands, of opinions, and one thing is apparent from all of them that I have read.  They all reflect Justice Thomas’s authorial voice, and they do not reflect the authorial voice of his law clerks.  Justice Thomas’s brilliance, and commitment to originalism shine through in all of his opinions.  He is more consistent, steady, and reliable than any other justice on the Supreme Court.  He almost never follows precedent, but he always follows the original public meaning of the text of the Constitution.  He is the very best justice out of 116 to have ever served on the U.S. Supreme Court better even than my old boss Justice Antonin Scalia.  Justice Thomas not only talks about the importance of being an originalist; he practices originalism in every majority opinion, concurrence, or dissent that he writes.  I do not always agree with Justice Thomas, but I always know where he stands and why.

I say this because neither legal academia nor the news industry seem to be aware that the very best justice, which the Supreme Court has ever had is currently serving on the bench.  Left wing bias, and a disinclination to read Justice Thomas’s opinions, has so skewed our public perception of him that no-one realizes what former Second Circuit Chief Judge Ralph Winter once told me is true: “Clarence Thomas is quite simply a genius.”  Moreover, Justice Thomas has such a clear body of rules, which he consistently follows in case after case over 32 years on the bench that it is as obvious as the day is long that he is incorruptible in every sense of that word.  Justice Thomas would never “bend” the law to please Justice Scalia, his closest friend; his wife Ginni Thomas, who is active as she has every right to be in politics, or his good and close friend; the Koch brothers; Texas billionaire Harlan Crow; or anyone else.   Clarence Thomas cannot be “bought.”  He is completely and utterly incorruptible as anyone who takes the time to read the opinions, which he produces prolifically can plainly see.  I defy the many critics of Justice Thomas’s ethics to point to a single outcome in which he wrote any opinion whatsoever or took any action whatsoever for a corrupt purpose.

The attacks in the news media on Justice Thomas are sickening and unfair.  To begin with, Justice Thomas’s salary is $285,400 per year.  If Congress had adjusted for inflation the salary that Supreme Court justices made in 1969 at the end of the Warren Court, Justice Thomas would be being paid $500,000 a year, and he would not need to rely as much as he has on gifts from wealthy friends.  Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post wrote on December 19th of this year that “But — and here is a sentence I am not accustomed to writing — Thomas has a point. Supreme Court justices, and their colleagues on the lower federal courts, ought to be paid more.”  Clarence Thomas blundered. But the justices are underpaid.

Law School Deans routinely earn salaries of around $500,000 a year and first year lawyers with a Supreme Court clerkship earn up to a $500,000 signing bonus and an annual salary of $300,000.  Top partners at law firms earn up to $8.4 million a year.  Surely Supreme Court justices should be paid at least as much as are law school deans.  Congress’s refusal to adjust judicial salaries for the inflation that has occurred since 1969 coincides with the end of the Warren Court and the beginning of the more conservative Burger, Rehnquist, and Roberts Courts.  Congress is punishing Republican justices and judges by not raising their salaries to keep pace with inflation.  Blowhards like RI Senator Sheldon Whitehouse then complain when a man who was dirt poor when he was appointed to the Supreme Court accept gifts from close friends who happen to be wealthy.

Whitehouse by the way is descended from railroad robber barons and Puritan founder William Bradford, attended St. Paul’s School, an elite prep school, and Yale College and the University of Virginia Law School.  Whitehouse has allegedly engaged in insider trading, in possible violation of the law, accepts dark money donations  from some of the biggest and most powerful dark money groups on the left, and is a member of Bailey’s Beach Club an all white elite private club for members of America’s ruling class.  Justice Clarence Thomas, in contrast, is descended from enslaved Africans and was raised by his grandfather after his parents abandoned him.  The very idea that Senator Whitehouse should lecture someone like Justice Clarence Thomas about ethics is laughable and sickening all at the same time.

There are good reasons why judicial and executive and legislative branch salaries ought to be much higher than they now are.  We do not want to live in a world where only the wealthy can afford to hold high public office.  Clarence Thomas grew up dirt poor as is made clear in his superb autobiography My Grandfather’s Son.  He has devoted his entire professional life as a lawyer to serving in government jobs in which he has been grossly underpaid.  Under these circumstances, Thomas, who again is incorruptible, as his 32 years of judicial opinions all show, has every right to accept gifts from wealthy friends.

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