Justice Clarence Thomas, whose activism -- along with his wife's -- has bolstered conservative causes, is poised to be a central figure as the Supreme Court reconsiders rolling back more landmark rulings

Neil Roberts, Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto, The Conversation on

Published in Political News

“In future cases,” Thomas explained, “we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell … we have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents.”

Other recent Supreme Court rulings, on Second Amendment rights, Miranda rights, campaign finance regulations and tribal sovereignty, are also evidence of Thomas’ impact on the nation’s highest court.

In his memoir and public speeches, Thomas identifies as a self-made man.

Though he has benefited from affirmative action programs – and the color of his skin played a role in his Supreme Court nomination – Thomas has staunchly opposed such efforts to remedy past racial discrimination. Like other notable Black conservatives, Thomas argues that group-based preferences reward those who seek government largesse rather than individual initiative.

With the exception of guidance of Catholic Church institutions and his grandfather Myers Anderson, Thomas claims he earned his accomplishments by effort, hard work and his own initiative.

In a 1998 speech, Thomas foreshadowed his judicial independence and made clear that his attendance before the National Bar Association, the nation’s largest Black legal association, was not to defend his conservative views – or further anger his critics.


“But rather,” he explained, “to assert my right to think for myself, to refuse to have my ideas assigned to me as though I was an intellectual slave because I’m black.”

“I come to state that I’m a man, free to think for myself and do as I please,” Thomas went on. “I’ve come to assert that I am a judge and I will not be consigned the unquestioned opinions of others. But even more than that, I have come to say that, isn’t it time to move on?”

But like many of Thomas’ complexities, his own self-made narrative distorts the ideas of the first prominent Black Republican who remains one of his intellectual heroesFrederick Douglass, the statesman, abolitionist and fugitive ex-slave whose portrait has hung on the wall of Thomas’ office.

But in “Self-Made Men,” a speech he first delivered in 1859. Douglass disagreed with the idea that accomplishments result from solely individual upliftment.


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