To watch a splendid lecture (March 16) by Justice Thomas on his understanding of originalism and the role of the Supreme Court in America’s federal system of government, see W&L’s YouTube site.
He spoke on originalism, his own upbringing, the Founders, earning the right to benefit from the sacrifices of previous generations, and the limited role of the courts in protecting those rights. Quoted Lincoln a few times; noted that he annually takes his law clerks to Gettysburg at the end of the term. He has a profound, dare I say Ellisonian, appreciation for the liberty and equality promised in the Declaration of Independence and secured (by fits and starts, of course) by the Constitution. He mentioned the "reality" of this promise ("the acorn of liberty" that became an "oak" thru our constitutional history, which included a civil war) for him in his youth at a time when no one could believe it would ever come to pass. Repeated this sentiment when referring to the nuns who preached this reality as he contemplated the marvel of his becoming a Supreme Court justice many years later. As Schramm would say, What a country!
He mentioned the Plessy case twice, one time with particular reference to Harlan’s lone dissent. Liked how Harlan distinguished his personal opinion (e.g., superior status of whites) from his constitutional opinion ("The Constitution knows no caste."), and cited it to exemplify his understanding of originalism cf. judicial policy-making.