SALT LAKE CITY – US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said he was concerned that efforts to politicize the court or add additional justices could undermine the institution’s credibility as he spoke at an event in Utah on Friday hosted by organized by the foundation of former US Republican Senator Orrin Hatch.
Thomas, the senior judge on the nine-member court, said he often worries about the long-term impact of trends such as “abandonment culture” and a lack of civil debate.
“You can talk lightheartedly about packing or stacking the place. You can freely talk about doing this or doing that. Eventually, the institution will be compromised,” he told an audience of about 500 at an upscale Salt Lake City hotel.
“You continue to belittle the respect for institutions that the next generation will need if they are to have a civil society,” Thomas said.
Decisions for the coming year will enact legislation on hot political issues, including abortion, guns and voting rights.
The court has leaned increasingly conservative since adding three judges nominated by former President Donald Trump to its ranks. Progressives, in turn, have called for increasing the number of judges on the court, including during the 2020 presidential primary. Congressional Democrats introduced legislation last year to add four judges to the bench, and President Joe Biden has called a commission to review the to investigate expansion of the court.
“I’m afraid, especially in this world of attacks on cancellation culture, I don’t know where you’re going to learn to get involved like we did growing up,” he said. “If you’re not learning at that level in high school, high school, in your neighborhood, or in civil society organizations, how are you doing when you’re making decisions in government, in the legislature, or in the courts?”
In addition to condemning the “abandon culture,” Thomas criticized the media for cultivating inaccurate impressions about public figures – including himself, his wife and the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Thomas and a long-time Conservative activist, was indicted this year for her political activities and involvement in groups filing briefs on Supreme Court cases, as well as for using her Facebook page to fuel partisan attacks subjected to examination.
As Congress prepares to hold confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Thomas recalled his 1991 confirmation trial as a humiliating and embarrassing experience that taught him not to be unduly proud. During congressional hearings, lawmakers questioned Thomas about sexual harassment allegations from Anita Hill, a former employee, leading him to describe the experience as a “high-tech lynching.”
If confirmed, Jackson would be the first black woman on trial and would join Thomas as the second black judge.
Thomas, who grew up in Georgia during segregation, said he considers politeness to be one of his highest values. He said he learned during his school days to respect institutions and engage in civil debate with those who disagreed with him. Based on conversations he’s had with students at his university lectures over the past few years, he said he doesn’t think colleges are welcome places for productive debate, particularly for students who support what he called traditional families, or against abortion.
Thomas made no reference to the future of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that expanded abortion rights nationwide. The court is scheduled to decide Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization this year and whether Mississippi can ban abortions after 15 weeks. As the court deliberates on the case, lawmakers in Florida, West Virginia and Kentucky are pushing similar legislation in hopes the court will overturn Roe and set a new precedent.
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