Clarence Thomas on Government Reform
Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. Bush Sr. 1991)
Federal control over state voting is unconstitutional
In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down the section of the Voting Rights Act which established a formula for determining if a state requires prior approval before changing its voting laws. Nine states with a history of discrimination
must still get clearance from Congress before changing voting rules to make sure racial minorities are not negatively affected--this section was made toothless. Chief Justice Roberts said the formula Congress now uses, which was written in 1965, has
become outdated. Justice Ginsburg, dissenting, said, "Hubris is a fit word for today's demolition of the VRA."
OnTheIssues explanation: This ruling led to a spate of "Voter ID" laws, which proponents claim is needed to protect the
integrity of the vote, and which opponents say discriminates against youth & minority voters.
Opinions:Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, & Alito; concurrence: Thomas; dissent: Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, & Kagan.
Source: InfoPlease.com on 2013 SCOTUS docket #12-96
, Jun 25, 2013
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: 1995 SCOTUS:US v. Lopez in Freedom Agenda, by M.Lee, p.186-8
, 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: 1995 SCOTUS:US v. Lopez in Freedom Agenda, by M.Lee, p.191-2
, 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
Candidates' political speech is at core of First Amendment
In 2000, in Nixon v. Shrink Missouri PAC, [Zev Fredman, a marginal candidate for statewide office, assailed Missouri's contribution limits]. For their parts, Justices Thomas & Scalia would restore the law to its libertarian, pre-Buckley condition.
[In 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo the Court rules that contributions could be limited, but expenditures could not.] Political speech, they said, is at the core of 1st Amendment concern. The Buckley incursion into the most important arena of free speech
had created a "most curious anomaly." Turning to Fredman's candidacy, the dissenters noted his compelling need for large donations. Fredman lacked the advantages of incumbency, name recognition, or personal wealth. He had "managed to attract the support
of a relatively small number of dedicated supporters," but their potential support would be a crime under Missouri law. The upshot: The state prevented Fredman's message from reaching the voters. This was emphatically wrong under the First Amendment.
Source: First Among Equals, by Kenneth Starr, p. 87
, Oct 10, 2002
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: 1991 SCOTUS Senate Confirmation Hearings
, Sep 10, 1991
Corporate political spending is free speech.
Justice Thomas joined the concurrence on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on Jan 21, 2010:
Prior to the 2008 primary elections, Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to educating the American public about their rights and the government, produced a politically conservative 90-minute documentary entitled Hillary: The Movie. This documentary covers Hillary Clinton's record while in the Senate & the White House. However, The Movie falls within the definition of "electioneering communications" under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 ("BCRA")--a federal enactment designed to prevent "big money" from unfairly influencing federal elections--which, among other things, prohibits corporate financing of electioneering communications. The FEC [enforced the provision] of BCRA prohibiting corporations from broadcasting electioneering communications within 60 days of a general election. [The Supreme Court rules that this] violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.
Justice Kennedy , Opinion of the Court (Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and
Some members of the public might consider "Hillary: The Movie" to be insightful and instructive; some might find it to be neither high art nor a fair discussion on how to set the Nation's course; still others simply might suspend judgment on these points but decide to think more about issues and candidates. Those choices and assessments, however, are not for the Government to make.
Justice Stevens (dissent joined by Ginsburg , Breyer, and Sotomayor)
Neither Citizens United's nor any other corporation's speech has been "banned." All that the parties dispute is whether Citizens United had a right to use the funds in its general treasury to pay for broadcasts during the 30-day period. The notion that the First Amendment [allows that] is, in my judgment, profoundly misguided. Although I concur in the Court's decision to sustain BCRA's disclosure provisions, I emphatically dissent from its principal holding.
Source: Supreme Court case 08_CU_FEC argued on Mar 24, 2009
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 & AlitoArizona'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 SotomayorThe 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
Page last updated: Jan 15, 2017