Clarence Thomas Speaks, Finally
The big news at the Supreme Court Monday was that Clarence Thomas broke his silence—sort of. And what he said was revealing.
According to the Times’ Adam Liptak (I was not present in the courtroom), the issue before the Justices was the adequacy of representation in a death-penalty case. As Liptak reported:
Justice Antonin Scalia noted that [the lawyer in question] had graduated from Yale Law School, which is, by some measures, the best in the nation. It is also Justice Thomas’s alma mater.
Justice Thomas leaned into his microphone, and in the midst of a great deal of cross talk among the justices, cracked a joke. Or so it seemed to people in the courtroom.
The transcript is ambiguous, but the gist of Thomas’s joke—which marked the first time he’s spoken in open court since February 22, 2006—appears to be that graduation from Yale is a sign of incompetence.
If that’s what Thomas said—and I bet it was—the wisecrack comes with a long history. For many years, Thomas viewed Yale with undisguised hostility. The gist of his complaint was that he was admitted under an affirmative-action program—and, as a result, suffered from a stigma that tainted his judicial career. “I couldn’t get a job out of Yale Law School,” he told an interviewer in 1998, “That’s how much good it did me. I think I’ll send the degree back.” As I noted in “The Nine,” Thomas had a “Yale Sucks” bumper sticker on the mantle in his chambers for a time.
Thomas and Yale repaired their relationship in recent years. In “The Oath,” I reported that Thomas returned to Yale for the first time in decades in December, 2011, where he had congenial meetings with students and faculty. In fact, on the night of June 25, 2012, a few hours after the Court’s decision on Obamacare was announced, Thomas met in Washington with a group of Yale Law School alumni. The rift appeared to be over.
But, as this latest remark showed, Thomas’s anger at Yale is not gone. Thomas’s supporters always protest when the Justice is described as angry and bitter and still resentful of his treatment during his confirmation hearings, almost twenty-two years ago. But Thomas’s true feelings about his villains in that struggle—including Yale, Democrats, and the news media—always come out, as they did on Monday.