Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Justice Clarence Thomas at Washington and Lee University

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.

Discussions - 5 Comments

A low-key, humble, and very accessible (for those whose attention can tune in at a lower-key) speech. No con-law complexity in sight. I would have joined you all, Lucas, were it not for that heavy rain we had, and the fact that it was the BIG NIGHT. What was that, you ask? Well, the one night that certain salamanders of Virginia have their fertilizing get-togethers in certain ponds, which is one of the few times you can see them. For my wife, that's waayyy higher priority than a Supreme Court Justice!

Carl, is that a metaphor for you know what, or were there actually little salamanders to watch? Lucas, I would have driven up from Williamsburg had I known! Did you post advance notice? Please do so!

Oh dear, Tony. Sometimes a salamander is just a salamander! And a million-and-one blank-eyed reality-show participants to the contrary, there is also such a thing as Too Much Information. These (fairly big, actually) salamanders couldn't really be made a phallic symbol anyhow, because they don't have coitus, but just fertilize the laid eggs.

The gaggle of lefty faculty there and at most other colleges would probably rather swallow a salamander than have Justice Thomas on campus.

Carl, I was just hoping no one (except some dissertation student) actually went to look at salamanders, that's all.

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