WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) – Last week, as he marked his 74th birthday, Clarence Thomas achieved two long-desired goals: expanding gun rights. and reverse Roe v. Wade Nationwide protection for abortion.
If he was ready to take the victory lap, Thomas would not give up. Instead, he called on his colleagues to do more to revisit Supreme Court cases acknowledging the rights to same-sex marriage, same-sex sex, and contraception.
After 30 years in court, Thomas’ influence has never been greater, and yet he remains a lightning rod for controversy. This includes recent questions about his wife’s role in attempting to reverse the results of the 2020 election and his decision not to recuse himself from the matters involved. Thomas has said nothing in response to the criticism, and he could still serve another decade or more, winning additional wins with a court that has become more conservative.
“Sometimes things get in your way if you serve long enough,” said Ohio Northern University professor Scott Gerber, author of a book on Thomas. Gerber said at the moment there are people who have gone through the conservative legal movement, studying conservatives like Thomas and the late Justice Antonin Scalia., who has now joined Thomas in court. “They have learned from him and agree,” he said.
Thomas is now a senior member of a group of conservative justices with votes to control the court, not only in what cases the court takes but how widely it governs. It’s a change for Thomas, whose ideas for years were seen as out of the mainstream.
“He is known as not always taking the same approach,” said Jennifer Mascott, a law professor at George Mason University who worked as a law clerk for Thomas. But in the case of the gun, he said: “Everyone joined in with him, his attitude.”
Ralph Rossum, who has also written a book about Thomas, said that Justice once compared himself to a marathon runner who has to take a taller approach. Now, as time goes on and more conservative justices have joined the court, Thomas is, in a sense, running “faster and faster” and “prolonging his progress,” Rossum said.
Thomas declined an interview request from the Associated Press.
Thomas has faced criticism for his views over the years, with he and his wife, conservative activist Virginia Thomas, recently facing criticism for their actions following former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election defeat. Among other things, Virginia Thomas exchanged messages with the then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and encouraged him to work to reverse President Joe Biden’s victory. and urged Republican lawmakers in Arizona, where Biden won, for his slate of voters to choose. The House committee investigating the January 6, 2021 uprising at the Capitol has asked him for an interview,
As for justice, there has been criticism that he should have recused himself from a case because of his wife’s actions. Including the committee’s access to presidential documents and lawsuits challenging the election results, the court dismissed those challenges., Democrats in Congress wrote in a letter that their participation is “very difficult to reconcile with the requirements of federal ethics.”
In recent days, following the abortion ruling, thousands signed a petition saying she should no longer be allowed to teach a class at George Washington University’s law school. The university rejected that idea.
More personally, after the abortion decision’s draft leakedProtests took place at his home and at the homes of other conservative judges. In an appearance after the leak, Thomas drew a distinction between liberals and conservatives in the unusual US-versus-those words. “You never went to the Supreme Court judges’ houses when things didn’t go our way. We didn’t get angry,” Thomas said.
What many Americans know about Thomas stems largely from his 1991 confirmation hearing, when he was accused of sexual assault by former employee Anita Hill – allegations he denied. He wrote a bestselling book in 2007, but for years – partly because he decided not to ask questions During court arguments—and partly because he’s a self-described introvert—Thomas spoke largely through his thoughts. More often than not, because his views were so conservative compared to the rest of the court, he wrote opinions that spoke only for himself.
he changed. The court has become more conservative over the years during Trump’s administration, especially after the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. and her replacement in 2020 by conservative Justice Amy Connie Barrett, Conservatives now have a six-judge majority and could lose the vote of Chief Justice John Roberts, who is sometimes less inclined to issue sweeping decisions, and still holds the majority.
Thomas has also become more outspoken in general over the past two years. When the court began hearing arguments by telephone because of the pandemic and changed the format of the arguments, the justices asked questions one by one, Thomas joined. He continued to ask questions when the judge returned to his courtroom for the last time.His colleagues avoided him for the first questions.
Thomas’ influence has been felt in other ways as well. Many men and women Thomas consulted as law clerks Made political appointments in the Trump administration. Including John Eastman, the conservative lawyer who assisted in Trump’s efforts to undo the 2020 election results. Ten other former law clerks are now federal judges who hold lifetime appointments. Their ranks include Katherine Kimball Mizzell.Federal judges in Florida, who in April rescinded national mask mandates on airplanes and mass transit.
Thomas is 74 years old. Justice Stephen Breyer is retiring This year, just before his 84th birthday. Ginsburg served until his death at the age of 87. In 2028, Thomas will overtake Justice William O. Douglas as the longest-serving justice of all time.
Professor Gerber from Ohio said that Thomas has always said that being a justice is a job of a lifetime.
Gerber said: “It’s like Queen Elizabeth”, She’s been in power for 70 years and she’s going to stay until she’s taken to a box. That’s his point of view as well.”
Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report.