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Clarence Thomas on Government Reform

Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. Bush Sr. 1991)


Regulating commerce does not encompass 50 states' laws

The Court today properly concludes that the Commerce Clause does not grant Congress the authority to prohibit gun possession within 1,000 feet of a school, as it attempted to do in the Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990.

It seems to me that the power to regulate "commerce" can by no means encompass authority over mere gun possession, any more than it empowers the Federal Government to regulate marriage, littering, or cruelty to animals, throughout the 50 States. Our Constitution quite properly leaves such matters to the individual States, notwithstanding these activities' effects on interstate commerce. Any interpretation of the Commerce Clause that even suggests that Congress regulate such matters is in need of reexamination.

In an appropriate case, I believe that we must further reconsider our "substantial effects" test with an eye toward constructing a standard that reflects the text and history of the Commerce Clause without totally rejecting our more recent Commerce Clause jurisprudence.

Source: US v. Lopez (1995) in Freedom Agenda, by Mike Lee, p.186-188 , Jul 18, 2011

If Congress could regulate all commerce, why enumerate?

Congress has the authority to enact such laws as are "necessary and proper" to carry into execution its power to regulate commerce. But on this Court's understanding of congressional power [in the Lopez case], many of Congress' other enumerated powers are wholly superfluous. After all, if Congress may regulate all matters that substantially affect commerce, there is no need for the Constitution to specify that Congress may enact bankruptcy laws, or coin money. It might not even need the power to raise and support an Army and Navy, for fewer people would engage in commercial shipping if they thought that a foreign power could expropriate their property with ease.

Put simply, much if not all of Article 1 Section 8 would be surplusage if Congress had been given authority over matters that substantially affect interstate commerce. An interpretation that makes Artilcle 1 Section 8 superfluous cannot be correct.

Source: US v. Lopez (1995) in Freedom Agenda, by Mike Lee, p.191-192 , Jul 18, 2011

1980: Voted for Reagan & against ever-larger government

In the fall of 1980, I changed my voter registration from Missouri to Maryland--and registered as a Republican. I had decided to vote for Ronald Reagan. It was a giant step for a black man, but I believed it to be a logical one. I saw no good coming from an ever-larger government that meddled, with incompetence if not mendacity, in the lives of citizens, and I was particularly distressed by the Democratic Party's ceaseless promises to legislate the problems of blacks out of existence. Their misguided efforts had already done great harm to my people, and I felt sure that anything else they did would compound the damage. Reagan, by contrast, was promising to get government off our backs and out of our lives, putting an end to the indiscriminate social engineering of the sixties and seventies.
Source: My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas, p.130 , Oct 1, 2007

Judge's role is to interpret law, not to make policy choices

I was informed that I would be confirmed for the Court of Appeals, but that I could expect things to be very different if I were to be nominated to the Supreme Court. Despite their grilling, and the months of preparation that had led up to it, the actual hearings proved to be uneventful. The questioning proceeded fairly briskly. By the end of the day, it was over and done with.

As I reflected on the long, unpleasant process that had led up to this brief public performance, I was struck by how easy it had become for sanctimonious whites to accuse a black man of not caring about civil rights.

Given my initial ambivalence about becoming a judge, I was surprised to find that I liked the job. Part of what made it so agreeable was that I got along so well with most of my new colleagues.

"What is my role, in this case--as a judge?" The role of a judge is to interpret and apply the choices made in the legislative and executive branches. Not to make policy choices of his own.

Source: My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas, p.201-204 , Oct 1, 2007

Opposed the Voting Rights Act & affirmative action

Bush wanted credit in the history books for appointing a black justice to the Supreme Court, but he needed to find a conservative who was against abortion to satisfy the demands of right-wing Republicans. Still, the President knew he was in for a confirmation fight when he proposed an inexperienced jurist for the highest court, because when he was confirmed as a federal judge, many senators said they would not confirm him for the Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas opposed affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act, and abortion, but Bush figured that Thomas's race would weigh heavily in his favor and stave off the opposition of civil rights groups. It almost worked.

The National Urban League withheld its opposition, but the board of directors of the NAACP voted 49-1 to oppose; the AFL-CIO Executive Council voted 35-0 to oppose; the NOW officers and convention delegates voted unanimously to oppose; and the black National Bar Association voted to oppose.

Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.512-513 , Sep 14, 2004

Limited role for courts; narrow Constitional interpretation

The nine court members can be divided into three general alliances, but all of the justices have crossed ideological lines. The three conservative justices, including Thomas, and two of the swing justices usually support states’ rights.

Thomas, sees limited role for the court; reads constitutional guarantees narrowly.

Source: Reuters article in Boston Globe, p. A45 , Dec 1, 2000

Judges should not impose their will, but just interpret law

SENATOR THURMOND: Would you please describe your views on judicial activism?

JUDGE THOMAS: The role of a judge is a limited one. It is to interpret the intent of Congress, the legislation of Congress, to apply that in specific cases, and to interpret the Constitution, where called upon, but at no point to impose his or her will or his or her opinion in that process, but, rather, to go to the traditional tools of constitutional interpretation or adjudication, as well as to statutory construction.

Source: Senate Confirmation Hearings , Sep 10, 1991

Public campaign finance can't be based on opponent spending.

Justice Thomas joined the Court's decision on AZ FREEDOM CLUB PAC v. BENNETT on Jun 27, 2011:

An Arizona public campaign financing law allowed a person who agreed to the restrictions of a publicly financed campaign to receive an initial allotment from the state. That initial allotment was increased when the spending of a privately financed opponent together with the spending of any independent group exceeded that initial allotment. The public funds to match opponent expenditures topped out at two times the initial allotment.

HELD: Delivered by Roberts; joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas & Alito

Arizona's public financing law places a burden on privately financed candidates. If privately financed candidates spend money above a certain level, they necessarily entitle their publicly financed opponents to greater funding. Their First Amendment right to free speech in a political matter--which includes spending money on their campaigns--is inhibited. Independent groups do not qualify for public financing at all, but their spending still may lead to a funding increase for the candidates the independent groups oppose. Leveling the playing is not a compelling state interest justifying a burden on a First Amendment right, nor is combating corruption. Arizona would be free to give the maximum amount to all public candidates, but that does not justify inhibiting the free speech of candidates and independent groups.

DISSENT: Kagan dissents; joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor

The First Amendment's core purpose is to foster a political system full of robust discussion and debate. Arizona's public campaign finance did not restrict speech, it increased speech through public subsidy with the goal of decreasing the corruption of both quid pro quo campaign payments made in exchange for official acts or an office seeker feeling beholden to his great financial supporters. Any burden on free speech, the burden could hardly be more substantial than what the Court announces would be legal: a larger, up-front allotment to a public candida
Source: Supreme Court case 11-AZ-PAC argued on Mar 28, 2011

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Other Justices on Government Reform: Clarence Thomas on other issues:
Samuel Alito
Stephen Breyer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Elena Kagan
Anthony Kennedy
John Roberts
Antonin Scalia
Sonia Sotomayor
Clarence Thomas

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Sandra Day O'Connor
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Page last updated: Jul 11, 2013