Court Battles

Justice Clarence Thomas calls DC ‘broken in some ways’

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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas called Washington, D.C., a “broken” city Wednesday night when asked during a lecture at the Heritage Foundation whether there’s any hope of improving the confirmation process.

“There’s always hope, but this city is broken in some ways,” he said.

“I’ve been here now most of my life, and I think that we have become very comfortable with not thinking things through and debating things.”

The question comes in the midst of a contentious battle over filling the vacant seat on the Supreme Court left by the the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans have refused to hold a confirmation hearing or vote on President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, during the election cycle. They claim it’s a seat the next president should fill.

Democrats have argued that using the court as a political tool damages the public’s confidence in the the judicial system.

“I think that we have decided that rather than confront the disagreement and differences of opinion, we’ll just simply annihilate the person who disagrees with us,” he said. 

“I don’t think that’s going to work in a republic or a civil society. At some point, we have got to recognize that we’re destroying our institutions and undermining our institutions.”

When asked about public confidence in the court, Thomas said it’s something that must be earned.

“I would probably say, ‘What have we done to gain their confidence?’” he said.

“I don’t think people owe us, reflexively, confidence. I think it’s something we earn.”

The George H.W. Bush appointee was at the conservative think tank to deliver the ninth Joseph Story Distinguished Lecture, a series named after the youngest justice ever to serve on the Supreme Court when appointed by President James Madison in 1812.

During the event he was asked to reflect on his last 25 years on the court, an anniversary he celebrated on Sunday.

“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking back over the time … we’re too busy doing our work,” he said. “I’m not a navel-gazer. We have enough navel-gazers in our society.”

He did say he’s most enjoyed working with his law clerks.


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