In early 2001 I was channel hopping on the television and came upon U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas giving a speech before the American Enterprise Institute. I stopped for a moment to listen, expecting that I would move on in a few moments. But I found Justice Thomas’ remarks to be riveting. Not only did I listen to the entire speech, but I was so inspired by his words that I obtained a copy of it and wrote the following article:
Daniel Webster, the eloquent Senator from Massachusetts, expressed his reverence for the Founders of our country:
“Truly…these founders and fathers of the Constitution were great men…All that reading and learning could do; all that talent and intelligence could do; and, what perhaps is still more, all that long experience in difficult and troubled times and a deep and intimate knowledge of the condition of the country could do, conspired to fit them for the great business of forming a general but limited government…I love to linger around these original fountains, and to drink of their waters. I love to imbibe, in as full measure as I may, the spirit of those who laid the foundations of the government, and so wisely and skillfully balanced and adjusted its bearings and proportions” (The Works of Daniel Webster, Vol. I, pg. 203-204).
Like Daniel Webster, I also love to linger around the writings, the words, and the ideas of the founders. A sampling of some of my favorites:
“Government is instituted to protect property…This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own…That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has …is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest.” James Madison
“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence – it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” George Washington
“It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights; that confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism – free government is founded in jealousy and not in confidence; it is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions; to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power…In questions of power, then, let not more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” Thomas Jefferson
“It has long been my opinion, and I have never shrunk from its expression, that the germ of dissolution of our federal government is in the constitution of the federal judiciary; an irresponsible body (for impeachment is scarcely a scarecrow), working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped from the States, and the government of all be consolidated into one. To this I am opposed; because, when all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the centre of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.” Thomas Jefferson
There are many more I would love to include. But let me segue from Thomas Jefferson’s deep concern about the corrupting potential of the judiciary to the man I really want to speak of, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Ann Coulter wrote a piece recently titled “Eight More Clarence Thomases” in which she posits that the assault by liberals on John Ashcroft was a shot across the Bush bow and a warning that they will tolerate no more principled conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court. Coulter observes that liberalism has rarely found its way into our institutions via the vote of the people, but rather by judicial fiat when she says “A lot is at stake for liberals with the court. If they lose a liberal vote, they will be forced to fight political battles through a messy little system known as ‘democracy’…Conservatives always knew they had to win at the ballot box; liberals prefer to skip voting and win by judicial fiat.”
She is quite right. And while Thomas Jefferson must have seen liberals in his worst nightmares, the liberals’ worst nightmare would be another Clarence Thomas on the court. Coulter offers what I think is a great idea:
“There are…any number of ways the Supreme Court will wreck the country if Bush appoints another David Hackett Souter rather than another Clarence Thomas…Bush ought to find eight more just like Thomas. For one thing, it would be really cool to have an all black Supreme Court. But mostly it would be nice to go back to living in a democracy again.”
Justice Thomas gave a speech on February 13 before the American Enterprise Institute which was absolutely riveting. The theme of his comments was the profound need in our nation today for courage, a virtue which Clarence Thomas clearly possesses. Said he:
“Judges do not cease to be human beings when they go on the bench. In important cases, it is my humble opinion that finding the right answer is often the least difficult problem. Having the courage to assert that answer and stand firm in the face of the constant winds of protest and criticism is often much more difficult…judges can be buffeted by strong winds that tear them away from the basic principles they have sworn to safeguard. Fulfillment of our oath requires us to have both a clear understanding of the principles that allow us to ‘call as we see it,’ and the fortitude to stand by those principles and the decisions that rest upon them.”
“If we are to be a nation of laws and not of men, judges must be impartial referees who defend constitutional principles from attempts by particular interests (or even the people as a whole) to overwhelm them, in the name of expediency…A judge is not a legislator…”
“When interpreting the Constitution and statutes, judges should seek the original understanding of the provision’s text…This approach places the authority for creating the legal rules in the hands of the people and their representatives, rather than in the hands of the judiciary. The Constitution means what the delegates of the Philadelphia Convention and of the state ratifying conventions understood it to mean; not what we judges think it should mean.”
“…We ‘the people’ adopted a written Constitution precisely because it has a fixed meaning, a meaning that does not change. Otherwise we would have adopted the British approach of an unwritten, evolving constitution. Aside from amendment according to Article V, the Constitution’s meaning cannot be updated, or changed, or altered by the Supreme Court, the Congress, or the President.”
Hence, Clarence Thomas, or more to the point, any more Clarence Thomases on the U.S. Supreme Court, is liberalism’s worst nightmare.
Thomas then spoke of the forces of intimidation which array themselves against anyone who dares to question the accepted dogmas:
“…in December of 1980…I was unwittingly candid with a young Washington Post reporter. He fairly and thoroughly displayed my naive openness in his op-ed about our discussion, in which I had raised what I thought were legitimate objections to a number of sacred policies, such as affirmative action, welfare, school busing – policies that I felt were not well serving their intended beneficiaries. In my innocence, I was shocked at the public reaction. I had never been called such names in my entire life.”
“Why were these policies beyond question? What or who placed them off limits? Would it not be useful for those who felt strongly about these matters, and who wanted to solve the same problems, to have a point of view and to be heard? Sadly, in most forums of public dialogue in this country, the answer is no.”
“It became clear in rather short order that on the very difficult issues such as race there was no real debate or honest discussion. Those who raised questions that suggested doubt about popular policies were subjected to intimidation. Debate was not permitted. Orthodoxy was enforced. When whites questioned the conventional wisdom on these issues, it was considered bad form; when blacks did so, it was treason.”
“…In my humble opinion, those who come to engage in debates of consequence, and who challenge accepted wisdom, should expect to be treated badly. Nonetheless, they must stand undaunted. That is required. And, that should be expected. For, it is bravery that is required to secure freedom.”
“When one observes the pitched battles that rage around persons of strong convictions, who do not accept the prevailing beliefs of others, it is no wonder that those who might otherwise wish to participate find more hospitable outlets for their civic interests…”
“I do believe that we are required to wade into those things that matter most to our country and our culture, no matter what the disincentives are, and no matter the personal cost. There is not one among us who wants to be set upon, or obligated to do and say difficult things. Yet, there is not one of us who could in good conscience stand by and watch a loved one or a defenseless person – or a vital national principle – perish alone, undefended, when our intervention could make all the difference…if we think something is dreadfully wrong, then someone has to do something.”
Justice Thomas then goes on in his speech to enjoin courage in standing for correct principles, and not to succumb to intimidation:
“As I have said, active citizens are often subjected to truly vile attacks; they are branded as mean-spirited, racist, Uncle Tom, homophobic, sexist, etc. To this we often respond (if not succumb), so as not to be constantly fighting, by trying to be tolerant and non-judgmental–i.e., we censor ourselves. This is not civility. It is cowardice, or well intentioned self deception at best.”
I find Justice Clarence Thomas’ wisdom to be on a par with that of the Founders. I get the same sense of clarity and understanding of correct principles from his words as when I contemplate the words of the Founders. My guess is that, like Daniel Webster, Clarence Thomas loves to drink deeply the waters that flow from that fountain of inspired doctrine which was the Founders’ legacy. This is a man cut from similar cloth. If the Founders were great men for their times, then Clarence Thomas is clearly a great man for our times.
So, with Ann Coulter, I say yes, let’s have eight more Clarence Thomases on the U.S. Supreme Court!
The full text of Justice Thomas’ remarks can be accessed here. It is a remarkable speech. A fountain of wisdom for our times. I encourage all to obtain a copy of it, read it, keep it with your copy of the Constitution, and return to it as needed to remind yourself what is required of each of us if we are to preserve our Constitutional Republic.
Let me close with the closing words of Justice Thomas:
“So, this evening, I leave you with this simple exhortation: Be not afraid.”