just start Okay Good evening everybody. My name is John you the only thing I've ever done I've noticed I've clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas in 1994 9095.
I don't talk about memos anymore just okay. And it's my pleasure to introduce the justice and also tell you all about a change in the format. The Justice said he would rather have a conversation with all of us for the next hour. So I'm going to ask him a few questions for the first half of that and then I will take questions from the audience for the second half of that. Also, I just want to remember to say on behalf of the American Enterprise Institute is President Robert doors here and Hoover Institution and Manhattan Institute. I know Ray Han where I know you're very handsome. Thank you. Want to thank you for joining us this evening. And I think I'm sure you and all of us want to join Harlan. Thank Harlan Crowe and his family for making this wonderful facility. I know Harlan hates that. No, so I knew we had
I wouldn't say I knew we had to do I like to keep that friendship.
Oh, so it's gonna be like that kind of
Yeah. You're used to being thrown under the bus.
You're a very good bus driver, which we're gonna get to so let me just, you all know justice Thomas's biography. Of course, he was from pinpoint Georgia, went to Holy Cross for college, Yale Law School. He then became an aide in the Senate to Senator John den forth from Missouri. He he became an official in the education department in the early years of the Reagan administration, and then from there became chairman of the EOC and then the first President Bush appointed him to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, the same court on which judge Brown who you saw earlier today served. And then in 1991, Justice Thomas joined the Supreme Court at the tender age of 42 343 years old who's counting and he just celebrated last year his 30th year on the court
just as a means of introduction before asked the first question, I was trying to think of the thing I think that the finds your tenure on the court the most, some people say you are the most committed to interpreting the Constitution based on the understanding of those who drafted and ratified it. Some people say you're the person who's most likely to say the emperor has no clothes, when the court goes off on some long trail of precedent and Chris, it doesn't make sense. You're the one who brings them back to reality. But I just wanted to read briefly, what I think would be meaningful for many of the people here was the way you ended your speech before the National Bar Association. You said a long time ago. But it sounds like you just wrote these yesterday, actually this so this is a for those who don't know this is a bar association. So prior leaders of the black bar and you there were some controversy about lot of computation
follows me around.
We'll get to that too. Don't worry. And so you said to them at the end of your speech, you said, I have come here today not an anger or to anger, though my mere presence has been sufficient obviously to anger son, nor have I come to defend my views but rather 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. I have come to assert that I'm a judge and I will not be consigned the unquestioned opinion of others
to me, I think what your time on the question and then we're gonna get to the questions I'm gonna stop buttering you up. Is that is that your that you really show the importance of ideas more than anything else? Your do my time working for you and watching him since then? You're not there to simplify votes to win. Your influence has come because of what you've written on the page. And over time, I think we were seeing more and more that you have persuaded your colleagues and we're seeing now opinions he used to insert into into opinions 30 years ago, I had no idea why you were doing it. And now actually, I get it. The ideas took 30 years. Yeah. Okay, that's enough introduction. So, justice, first question Is there anything going on at the court these days? When you go back to Washington, could you tell your colleagues that next time they leak an opinion, just give it to me and I'll look out for them? Why are they going through these other methods?
You have too much character.
But in seriousness, justice, you know, one theme that's come out of this conference, I think, is the importance of institutions, and that institutions are under attack these days. So I thought you might want to comment on the leaks, the protests, the justices homes, what we're seeing in the wake of this leak of the alleged Bob's draft.
Well, I've first of all, it's
a real honor to be here. This is it's hard to believe that 40 More than 40 years have passed since I was at Fairmont conference, which was no more enthusiastic about that, than I am about this one. And I think it started off with I thought on very electric speech by Glenn Lowry, and it has continued with the thoughtfulness and that's really all we ever wanted. Not to replace one orthodoxy with another orthodoxy. We had enough of that, but rather to assume that people are able to think for themselves to have different ideas because they're unique, and to exchange different perspectives and perhaps have others either agree with them or sharpen their disagreements, but to have a civil discussion, that was all that's why it was called new alternatives. It was an alternative to it's the kind of alternatives you would want in a but we saw it at least in the civil society. And it certainly was, did not was not treated that way. And that sort of, we were treated very shabbily after that and the. The whole idea that your point about institutions, I think we are in danger of destroying the institutions that are required for a free society.
You can't have a civil society, a free society, without a stable legal system. You can't have one without stability and things like property or interpretation and impartial judiciary. And I've been in this business long enough to know just how fragile it is. And the institution that I'm a part of, if someone said that one line of one opinion would be leaked by anyone in you would say that, 'Oh, that's impossible. No one would ever do that.' There was such a belief in the rule of law, belief in the court, a belief in what we were doing, that that was verboten. It was beyond anyone's understanding, or at least anyone's imagination, that someone would do that. And look where we are, where now that trust or that belief is gone forever. When you lose that trust, especially in the institution that I'm in, it changes the institution fundamentally. You begin to look over your shoulder. It's like kind of an infidelity that you can explain it but you can't undo it. And I think you're seeing it go through any number of our institutions, whether it's in the political branches, or whether it's in the universities. when I went to a university to college, it was the fun place where you were not that well informed, but boy you debated all night. And then the people with whom you are just like
the Supreme Court. No.
No. The some of the the friends that you made during that time you kept for life. You you and you pick up the arguments 10 years later, and you still are arguing and you still loving being around each other. Remember the bad pizza and too many mugs of beer and a reason why many of us don't drink anymore. But my point is simply that they've that even the universities have changed. I was at University of Georgia, about a year ago. And I met with a lot of students and their question was why can't we in the general society debate difficult things anymore? And I said to them, and these were small groups I met with a group of 10 students 15 separate groups for about an hour. It was very exhausting, but enormously, enormously informative. And the the, you know, I said to them, that to me the epicenter of free speech when I was in was at the university. That's where you learn how to do to engage with people who disagreed with you. That's where you learned how to deal with ideas and address ideas that you were not with which you were not familiar with, previously, or with which you disagree. And there was back and forth and I just loved it. And we call them rap sessions back then. And they said, I said, But now look at your university. Where it did this is University of Georgia, and said how many of you can take a view on this campus of traditional families? And of course, nobody or you got a lot of people staring at the floor. How many of you can take a pro life position on this campus, staring at the floor and as you go on and on. You take positions that are obviously at odds with the current mood on these campuses, and this is a this is where you learn how to deal with views that are different. Now if you don't learn at that point, the law schools are just as bad now at John's alma mater, Yale the they just
did you get your degree back again?
Yale does not recognize me either. But they just protested a group and made it very difficult for others to come and certainly had a chilling effect. Now Yale was when I was there visiting. It was anything goes is you do your thing. I do my thing and maybe too much of that. But it certainly wasn't prior restraint. And it certainly wasn't censorship, but here we are, where that's acceptable at one of the elite universities. It's and it's pretty much acceptable at all the universities and if they if we're there with these institutions, how do we recover? So yeah, I do think that the the what happened at the court is tremendously bad. I think it's I wonder how long we're going to have these institutions at the right word undermining them. And then I wonder when they're gone, or they are, destabilize what we will have as a country. And I don't think that the prospects are good. If if we continue to lose them.
Thank you. I know you can't speak much more about the court. So maybe we could start with the how you got to the Fairmount conference back in 1980. And so I dug up a story about the Fairmont conference by a Washington Post reporter at the very end of his story, he said
that the my grandmother pathological, trying to reconcile what people were saying and they mentioned that he's going to be at what friendship, score.
Justice you have been going to all the panels
you've warned about such as being free hours later, do you get the you know, like, you think that we all grew up in the same neighborhood because in yourself that has become one favorite of mine. I got it in the salts of needs, and I don't know I read them. And we take it as this is a fact. And but people want to now reconfigure the facts to fit the current narrative. And it's not that is a lie. In order now you can say I'm sorry, I supported it 20 and 30 years, they are typing another book is the user usually have three or four going he wants this country and people who look like him who under and fellow citizen
you've heard today a lot of them don't involve the work of the court there. You know, the courts not going to repair the family structure in the country for blacks are the most of the country. They they're not going to make people less I believe blacks can achieve
classmates from Holy crap about admissions years ago and asked him if he would do to his own and then they tell other people not to follow that. So I just think that that's the point of
so I'm sorry, I went on so long with my questions, but it was really your answers that went on too long. So I
like I like to, you see what I have to put up with.
Just imagine there's four of us. At once,
and three of them from Yale.
So I'm gonna call on people to ask questions. So just a point of law professor privilege, ask a short question. I will cut you off and silence you. If it's not a question you're giving a speech. The second point if you if I don't like your question, I'm just going to ask my own question. So I'll ask good questions. And, you know, and if no one has a question, I'm just going to call them randomly, and, you know, make fun of you for getting things wrong, but right over here. Just very brief questions we can get in as many as possible.
I'm Jimmy Kemp. It's tough for me to be brief. I run the Jack Kemp foundation. Jack was my father. He was never brief. Justice Thomas. GK Chesterton said, was asked what the problem with the world was his answer as you probably know, two words I am is the misunderstanding of human nature in our country. This side, all the way in the back
so I don't have a question but you told me that I could say this when we met on the bus earlier.
I have. I have no memory of this.
Justice Thomas, I just want to say thank you for achieving and giving us no excuses. You made it to the highest court in the land. And I want to say thank you to all the men that are in this place today. I think that traditional men and masculinity have been demonized so much that in so many areas, they have been deep Lazarus
right here. He's right there.
Over here, right here. Yes.
Yes, Justice. Thank you so much for being here. My question is,
how do you view the pipeline of legal talent that's coming through the system today? Is it a problem that we don't have enough people that think I'll keep it simple like you or is the pipeline strong?
Oh, I think that there is after 30 years of the bench, I think it's stronger. Do you think that screening process to heart was so thanks, he fell
from GK Chesterton. Oh, well, brother.
It is the job of liberals. To make Mr. Few as a good working definition of Starry decisis.
You know, I have no idea that he's GK Chesterton, you know, he was a brilliant guy, and that's sort of I think, the. I think there was a word that was used today. That was really interesting, because I think it's a central word, and it's 'courage.' The way that Walter Williams did it in one of his books from the 1980s is 'All It Takes Is Guts.' And I think a lot of people lack courage, like they know what is right, and they're scared to death of doing it. And then they come up with all these excuses for not doing it. So even with stare decisis, you will see in a lot of those instances where people start, they run out of arguments. I always say when someone uses stare decisis, that means they're out arguments. And now they're just sort of waving the white flag. And then that's I just keep going then. I think if you have an argument, you make it, but I'm not going to go along with something. If you buy that argument then Plessy should never have been overruled. I mean, you cannot overrule plus and when you raise that with them, then they don't they well, they give you err, ahh, err, ahh, err, ahh.
Right here, wait for the wait for the Mic, mic. Okay, fairness,
justice Thomas. We know there are deep ideological differences on the court. But we also hear that, besides the politics are the issues that the justices get along very well. And we hear about the Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Scalia had a great relationship. They both enjoyed opera. How can we foster that same type of relationship within Congress and within the general population?
Well, I'm just worried about keeping it at the court now. This is not the court of that era. I sat with Ruth Ginsburg for almost 30 years. And she was actually an easy colleague for me. You knew where she was and she was a nice person to deal with Sandra Day O'Connor you can say the same thing, David Souter, I can go on down the list. Nino was, he could be agitated but then he forgot he was agitated. But it was it was a the court that was together 11 years was a fabulous court. It was one you look forward to being a part of. What you I go back to the point I made about the institutions. What you've got to be concerned about is just like you see the law clerks--Remember the last four appointees of the courts, including the newest one I knew as law clerks. These law clerks with these attitudes are you
I'm available by the way if you're looking for more
you're a little funny you have some confirmation
but you know you do but I'd you know, I just think that they bring--that anybody who would, for example, have an attitude to leak documents. That general attitude is your future on the bench. And you need to be concerned about that. And we never had that before. We actually trusted--it was we may have been a dysfunctional family. But we were a family. And we loved it. I mean, you trusted each other. You laughed together. You went to lunch together every day. And I can only hope you can keep it. So it's what was it Ben Franklin that said, we gave you a republic if you can keep it. And I think that you have a court and you hope you can keep it.
Just follow up briefly, what's changed? What has changed between that court and the current one?
I think what's changed in society, modernity of post modernity. I think attitudes have changed. I think when I got to the court you still had World War Two veterans on the court. You still had people like John Stevens who was a nice man. You had Byron White, who was a Rhodes Scholar when Rhodes Scholars were real athletes and number one in their class, NFL football player, Navy veteran. And you had Sandra Day O'Connor. That's a different generation and we were living off the sort of the treasures of that generation. That generation has gone. I'm the only member of the court ever to have been born in 1940s. Okay, everybody else is subsequent to that now. And the other ones I got to the court they were born in the 1930s and the 1920s. And we're now dealing with post World War two generation. And as you see it play out in society, I think you're going to see play out in the institution. So what's the difference? It's a different set of people who grew up in a different era. And I don't know what where that's gonna lead you but we know it's different.
Right there. Su
I'd like to ask you about your autobiography. I've taught it in my undergraduate mom was how the book was received you. And
we did the actually, for the reasons I stated in the preface or the introduction. There were a lot of people lying about where it was bad. I mean, they made up a biography and my wife said that and Mark Paletta and some others that I should consider defending that past. The especially Mark who without him, I would not have been confirmed. The day wanted me to defend that not me, but those people in that way of life. So that's why one reason. The second reason was, there are a lot of regular people out here. Just ordinary people who had the same kind of struggles. And I just wanted him to show that we all had those struggles, and to not have it ghost written but to write it myself. That's why it's to give them from exactly what I said in the introduction to tell the truth to leave it to them. The show the uncertainties, the fragility that that the the, the problems and how you got over them. And so they'll see it's all is not lost. And finally one of the great moments for me is when I we were in Omaha and a gentleman at the books they were all like oversubscribed and then I stayed there for hours signing every book. And this gentleman came up at the end. And he said he had come driven in from when from Eastern Iowa. That's why I wrote it for the
perhaps Perhaps the solution to his obvious wish for a sequel is if I recall, the original draft, which is soon to be leaked was much longer and you got it down significantly,
but it's pretty boring that way. It's really pretty bad.
Well, maybe you'll reconsider and publish the full draft. Yes, Mr. Woods.
This is Thomas as the yes the only person he had who attended the Fairmont conference. I wish you would reflect on the offices
temper tantrum. I think it is. It is incumbent on us to always act appropriately. And not to repay tit for tat and pretend drum. I think it is and we've never done it
and we've never done it. The offices of Southern senators demand they did understand as 60 promises the I guess the only person here who attended the Fairmont conference. I wish you would reflect on the role of Senator Dan forth in in that struggle. I remember that people need to understand as 60% of low income black supported your nomination, and they flooded the offices of Southern senators demanding that you be and when Jack Danforth, we had the celebratory banquet. Jack Danforth said that if we ever get a chance to do to that side what they've done to us, we should never do it. Yeah. And we've never done it and we've never done it. So I just the you.
You would never visit Supreme Court Justice house's when things didn't go our way. We didn't throw temper tantrums. It is incumbent on us to always act appropriately and not to repay tit for tat.
you know, and I have to thank all the people, the regular people, the people who you've showed up I mean with you were there weren't you? With it with all your angels with all our angels. And the regular people showed up. And it was always us against the elites. And that's the way it has been for the last 40 plus years. I've been in public life as against the elites and one of the things that you will see in my opinions is I never go after anybody personally. There's nothing insulting in there. It goes after the argument but you are right. We are to conduct ourselves better than they conduct themselves. One of the things I'd say in response to the media is when they talk about or especially early on, about the way I did my job. I said I will absolutely leave the court when I do my job as poorly as you do. Yours. And that was meant as a compliment
this side of the room is totally over here. Yes.
It really is good to be me. It's really
very quick question then Justice Thomas. Are you are conservatives living up to that mantra? This this notion that you you won't visit upon them the same thing? Certainly not with visiting Supreme Court justices houses, but when you observe the substance or lack thereof of the kind of prevailing culture wars, the issues that seem to be deciding America's political disputes now the lack of civility in our politics. Do you think that folks are living up to that charge to be better than their opposition?
Well, I think everybody you can find an exception to every generalization, but I think if you look around you will see that they [conservatives] have never trashed a Supreme Court nominee. The most they can point to is that Garland did not get a hearing, but he was not trashed. And it was a rule that Joe Biden introduced by the way, which is you get no hearing in the last year of an administration. That was not the rule before then. But at any rate with that aside, I'm sure you can find--you can quibble, but you will not see the utter destruction of a single nominee. You will also not see people going to other people's houses, attacking them at dinner at a restaurant. Throwing things on them, which we had when Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed. They were throwing things they didn't realize it was Justice Ginsburg and Justice Kagan. They were throwing stuff on the car that when they left, and you hear very little that they were banging at the door of the Supreme Court. Like it was storming the Bastille or something and but you hear very little of that and that's under reported. I don't think that I can tell you that everybody has been perfect, but I've seen no conduct that match them. And perhaps you have and if you did I stand corrected
one last question is right.
Back thanks again for being here. You're the greatest living American intellectual in my opinion. So I'm so grateful that you're here in the spirit of exceptions, what's what was your favorite memory as a student you