Justice Clarence Thomas visits HLS

Justice Clarence Thomas visits HLS

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slow add Pacific Justice says he wants to quit while
you’re ahead but no I it is my tremendous delight as Dean to
welcome here to campus Justice Clarence Thomas we will have a
conversation and this conversation is presented as
the herbert while Yvonne lecture gonna say a
word about mister von and then a word about are honored guests and turned to
questions while Yvonne was a graduate of the
school only graduate 1948 he had a 47-year career at the law firm
known as Hale and Dorr that later became WilmerHale and he was the go to lawyer for developers and lenders involved in
reshaping boston’s landscape he was devoted to legal profession two fundamental
principles of our legal system and that devotion was outstripped only
by his own example as a superb lawyer leader in man a fine judgment he endowed
lecture series and he said that we must begin each up these events with a statement to be
read aloud to the audience and my predecessor now Justice Kagan agreed and therefore I’m reading the
statement blackout this statement is as follows: I Herbert W von have endowed this
lecture at Harvard Law School to promote in advance understanding of
the founding principles and core doctrines American constitutionalism what Alexander Hamilton said to the
americans have his day remains true for americans have every
generation and then quoting Alexander Hamilton from the Federalist Papers it seems to have been reserved to the
people love this country by their conduct an example to decide the important question whether
societies have men are really capable or not %uh establishing good government
from reflection and choice or whether they are forever destined to
depend for their political concert to sins on accident and force mister von goes on in my judgment the Constitution of the
United States is the greatest practical achievement a political science it is a testament to the extraordinary
gifts and creativity prudence and high-minded miss possessed
by the founders of our nation but you’ll be guided inspired by their
genius as you meet the challenges up the present-day mister von past away a year and a half ago and I had the good
fortune to talk with him many times and I said to him who would you most
like to come and be a lecturer in your lecture series
and we are very honored to be joined here by his first choice
Justice Clarence Thomas was born in pinpoint georgia perhaps no
one has ever checked traveled as far in
history to become a Supreme Court justice from a childhood at the racially
segregated south where he knew what was to be cold and hungry graduate of the College of Holy Cross in
Worcester Massachusetts and the Yale law school know his thing
is allowed justice thomas turned down his admission
to the Harvard Law School heats I think it as I understand it he found the school
too large and if I’m right to conservative your
with its Pete he then began his career in
washington II it might be his career %uh following
that I working initially I’m the in I an amazing job for the then attorney-general love Missouri %uh john danforth he then worked for
Monsanto %uh company and then he became
legislative assistant to senator danforth’s I’m and then assistant secretary for
civil rights in the United States Department of Education and then in 1982 President Ronald Reagan
appointed him to be chair up the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission where he became the longest-serving chair President George HW Bush nominated
justice thomas to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the District
of Columbia Circuit and as followed by nomination and
confirmation to his current post at the United States Supreme Court where
he has served since 1991 justice thomas is beloved by his
colleagues on the courts recent members of the court who shall go
nameless have told me that no one there has been more welcoming and supportive and no one has a better sense of humor
it brings me enormous pleasure and joy to welcome you
here justice thomas and I’m gonna ask you a
couple questions if that’s alright you want to comment on
your views about Harvard or no way we leave that aside well first serve all thank you all for
taking time out your day after London Paris to to drive you all out on after ’em first semester grades came out you know someone asked me today about
how I felt after the first semester law school with
my game plan was an ives told him I was just glad to be a
survivor but I think this I’m I was not one of
those students whose assorted the win was under my wings and just hoping not
to take a nosedive so I’m its I I’m very pleased to be here
and I’m delighted that you all would take time
out your day to the spend apart ever job with me and I’m I hope it’s worth while on in the
answers that I give to the questions and I release some %uh view i’d started
this morning with a breakfast with some students and I
have to say the day has been consistent with their
breakfast it was absolutely delightful students were
bright the energetic they were engaged in zigzag be what I
would have expected on but the again I’m just simply
delighted that you would take time out be here thank you which tell us a little
bit about your childhood a about your schooling experiences about your life as a young person actually you
know when I look back on my life I have a good life it had its challenges but the every time
I go back to Georgia I’m very very happy I grew up in Georgia and a good time Georgia anybody alright rather not many of us around but the I’m
the people I grew up around the course the times were difficult but the the environment I was in the cocoon
I lived in was just fabulous I’m very pleased with
the nuns you know I mentioned to some students
recently they were bemoaning the fact that our education was somewhat compromised
in the south and I was just saying maybe a was in
some ways but when I got out of high school I have three years the Latin two years a
German two years of French and and you have physics chemistry
mathematics cetera but at the there was a a real
push and all the schools i went to to be
well-educated and course we all I didn’t grow up
speaking at home standard English so that was
always a challenge in the took some years to to to make sure that I did that but the desire to learn you know when I got
what I think back I reflect back where did that come from the desired re
to to see different things and actually
came from a segregated library in 1955 I went over we’d lived in
the lane across the street and one the very common tenements and librarians had a program in the
basement they were reading children’s books and
one of the series they were reading with these
doctor Seuss books I’ve never heard of it and I thought
that was the most amazing things that they were all these things in this book so we would go over that would be the
summer 1955 in I think if I have to point to a
moment that said to me there is something
between those covers it would have been that moment and
that would for years after that I made many many
trips to that library in Savannah and I met a young woman
today from Savannah so she would know where it is on East Henry Street and I had an
opportunity years later long before I went to the court to right those ladies in that library and thank them for the gift they gave me
I don’t think they need you what they had given me and I don’t think
that nuns exactly what they’ve given me but that
love and and I’m sure each review has said it
has an experience similar somebody along the way who called you side in gave you that sort of affinity for
learning that is stuck with you and it certainly for me it started in
1955 so when I think I’ve my education I
think I’ve having been given a gift by some people
who really cared about on a young kid who lived in
an environment that was mostly uneducated I that finally there
was a value on education that was different I grew
up with people who would not let her people
mostly from couldn’t read it all they would was not
uncommon when someone was signing something they would simply
make their mark or they would take your word for it
or they would be upset if you asked them to sign a
contract because there were was the contract so in that
environment these people my relatives my neighbors treasured
education in a way that a person who’s hungry
would treasure food they understood it in a different
way something that they never had a chance to have so it was it was truly something important so they encouraged me to be that way and
they always my grandfather who always made us work and he wouldn’t
let us play sports and I was a pretty good athlete but he wouldn’t let us play sports he
thought that was foolishness any leisure in his mind was foolishness but the always allow me to go to
the library and that would carry over to the the
Savannah public library when that was desegregated in the nineteen sixties I would take
habit of going to the library to Savannah public and that has continued so my education actually if I have to
characterize it was having been taught the love of learning and the joy up being educated by people who were not
in people who cared you’ve had probably more varied jobs then just about anyone who’s ever served
on the court and your legal jobs included work at legal
aid even before you were a lawyer while you were a law student you work to with a civil rights for mint in Georgia
E the year your work for the state attorney general
you practice criminal in tax law worked at Monsanto a and Department
education the EEOC as you think about your career which
jobs did you find most rewarding which for most a challenging how would you advise
students as they think about jobs when you think about I’m what what
did it take to get where you are now did were any of these steps that you thought
were taking you someplace in particular have you reflect on those jobs those
those careers well let me start by saying that I
didn’t think anything was taking me any place I’m you know when you don’t have a model for what will happen max you just do what’s in front of the queue
it reminds you when the switch to work in the fields that you this row after endless road I’ve menial work in that Sun so you
never look down the down the row you go from Bush
to Bush and you learn how to internalize that
discipline to do things I had no idea where it would lead where anything Woodley arm as I’ve said too others I simply did my best and others can be cynical about it but you know the it the I knew if nothing
else the you learn in the particularly 10 the
terrible things about bigotry in racism or any of the negative isms in our society is that it takes the
whole about a few and it takes the desire were the will too hope your you’re
scared to hope because you don’t want one more dream dashed you know those of us there the this is
this is sort of a little example but I think it’s
illustrative the point I’m trying to make I’m in
those who in this room who for example as little
kids lost a father or didn’t just just didn’t care about him
or something after a while you stop wondering if
they’re gonna show up for Christmas you can’t allow yourself to think about
UK up allow yourself to hope for something at Christmas or your birthday similarly when you art the in the position that we’re in you
couldn’t hope to to to that that would all work out so
when I left jail and I didn’t take the job in Savannah
civil rights for my now is married student loans a kid and I need a job so I allowed myself to
hope think that meant something to help gone
to yale to done well in school and so then its
rears its head again so I can’t say that I had the stream most I
could do was get up every day and do it my grandfather said and that’s
putting one foot in front of the other and it became us endless series of
putting one foot in front of the other and I can look back in retrospect and connect the dots but I will be not
telling you the truth not be less than candid if I said to you I knew ahead of time where it was all leading I did not I was
doing it because this is what I was supposed to do and maybe it felt
like swing across the ocean or something this
is what I was supposed to do I suppose to as my grandfather said get
up every day one foot in front of the up did you like appearing in court I the now I I’m especially as a defendant I’m just getting I goods I the I am not I’ve my personality is not such that I enjoy public appearances arm I tend to be more on the introverts I’m access tend to be quite introverted and I it is very difficult to to do those sorts of things but I did
them I remember my first experience in court course I
did like a lot of us at Yelp that I avoided
things like trial practice and moot court on the I show up in Missouri I was sworn in as a member the Missouri
Bar on September 14 1974 September 17 1974 I made my first
appearance before the Supreme Court in Missouri ok I argue a case that I did not brief and that’s the way it would go for the
next two and a half years a briefing in are you in cases and
traveling across the state and filing petitions and defending state
tax commission and the state department revenue so the I didn’t like it anymore denied liked school are or latin but it was required to do the job and that’s
what I did but on I could go a lifetime without making public appearances or without
going to court justice thomas and I are both fans have
a book by a harvard law grad called quiet by Susan Cain which is about being introvert anyone
here an introvert don’t be shy no I I’m and so I one thing that you might be
interested to know is that her research indicates that introverts
often bring qualities to leadership and two analysis that are very very valuable and we are
therefore even more grateful to you for being here
today I you are one of the very few people I ever who is served in all three
branches of government how do you compare the legislature the
executive branch a the judiciary I how do you think about
their relationship and how do you think about being in one in having served in
the others I like being a judge a lot better on the I A enjoy the OC I like the people very
much liked our mission we tried to make it
all work I did not like politics I don’t like the the this sort of the Norway’s around that job because it didn’t it
didn’t comport with what we were actually doing arm I but I enjoyed the people in
monthly enjoyed what we were trying to accomplish arm I enjoyed the legislative branch but
that I there’s too much compromising in back and forth in I
don’t understand politics and made my head hurt it was like new math I just didn’t
understand on the and I don’t like I’ve never been
political and that’s inside and I don’t get involved in that sort of
thing is that outta my into its it’s really out of my area I
don’t understand being on the bench I lot the DC Circuit I really enjoyed the DC Circuit I’m the I like the people there I tend
to get along well with people and I like the people there I don’t like the
work I can stay there but I think I get maneuvered into this
job I and then I had a really bad interview and I somehow or I’m going to use this follow
Nancy Reagan’s advice if they nominated just say no I but I’m you know it I like the people you know this job its really it’s quite
different from the court of appeals job I think the best part of people I worked
with over the last 21 years there’s not a person that I did not like
working they were quite different I I enjoy it
doesn’t matter you know you hear people talk about who do you agree with well I mean
they’re people I do don’t like I agree with in life but the people at the court
we’ve been enormously fortunate not only have they been capable and
engaged i sat next to ruth ginsburg that you cannot say she is not
enormously capable what a delightful person to to work with Elena Kagan who just showed up exact
same thing you know you know you say to her you
know it’s going to be a joy disagreeing with you for years I I but you wind up making each other better I don’t think you make each other better
simply by agreeing with each other you make each other better by sharpening the arguments by making
people respond by making people think by making the counter-argument you also
don’t make people better with insulting opinions or negative things are at Harmons you
engage the argument in what you find it court is some love
them the most wonderful phone calls you get
are from people who disagree with you on that particular
case because they saw an argument they hadn’t
thought up and now they have to respond to it and you do the same thing you say to
them I think that’s a good point you made Ruth I have
to give it some thought and that’s when you know you’re growing
as a judge in one thing one of my colleagues at recently is very fun the
for I he said very close friends a weather
said she makes all of us a better job or
better judges I agree with that one hundred percent so
it is not the agreement it’s the way they do their job and I
think you learn that you start in school learning that that how do I disagree with people who
are fundamentally different from me whose opinions are different for me to
write yelled to ice cream do I raise my voice or do I engage them
constructively one things I demand that my law clerks
is that we work corporately as I’m law in my chambers all four law clerks work
on everything that’s pretty cumbersome but I said look
we don’t run one cylinder at the time we go
together and I require I don’t hire jerks on in anyone other reasons I don’t want
that bad attitude in my chambers because what is
required we are very hard things to do they’re
very strong opinions there are disagreements and I need
people to disagree in a way that move things forward not did not disagreeable and disruptive or think that they have the gospel and
everybody else out just a mere floor opinion so I think you
learn it early on how do you conduct your cell with others with whom you may or may not
agree who might have a slightly different
opinion worry much much different opinion and I think
you see it reflected the court you see it I saw it on the court of appeals I thoroughly enjoyed working with the
people at the court the current composition be justice
o’conner who I think it was fabulous chief justice rehnquist our love them
the courts different now but no less on a decent and good place
to work you know it is known as Chad remarkably
collegial court right now and with friendships and your
name comes up over and over again is someone who everybody just like so much and helps to build
that sense a collegiality why don’t they vote with me I of I they just kindly disagree for him how
it’s just that up you know the the you notes people say
you know why don’t we have more the why do we have so many 54 opinions this
because the other guy’s name join us I are we will join them I don’t know
which way it is but it’s just it it is a wonder it is
indeed a wonderful place to work and I must say said she was here’s your predecessor
that Justice Kagan is just a delight to have their just at the
light teller we miss ur now you told me that
you have lunch together as as as members of the court but you
have some rules about when you talk about don’t
talk about no business I their jokes there’s music sports books that people are reading but no
business and I think the room for that is it’s
enough to retire and you come from conference and it
never ends with chief justice rehnquist did not want to extend the conference he
wanted people to simply get to know each other and so it is I would you know and and
two decades it is actually a very interesting large and I’m win we lost just a suitor up to the north country up and we lost a wonderful man then elegant storyteller so if you can invite
him and haven’t else from the store as he is a wonderful wonderful Cali and if you see him tell him we miss him
a lot but he yet great stories and people had this interfere miss this very supportive reserve New England there but he he was hopeful variously funny I and just as briar who sits now isn’t
sitting next to me for two decades also just a funny man he as this habit during
arguments up drawing stick figures but and he makes the stats show you your
always has he always has something going on item the be quite monastic my approach the things
that he’s bouncing around here are a few needs and I he’s always got an idea and the shares them with me on the bench
is this but it’s just a on and absolute delight to sit with them
but the do see you too juggling the always yet certain areas that needed you know
he’s very very smart but he’s sort of a moving around smart
and i’d to move you I tend to be someone I lock into
something I want to think it through for a long time and he likes to move around and I saw
the Raman every so often what about things I said what about the Stephen you pop up and ask a question said Steve is
just something throwing yeah I so you blames love those been provided
as a hostess asking what do you think about sleep justice thomas you started to explain
how you organize the work in your chambers are you work with the clerks tell us more mean you participate in
this in the cert pool and some people here don’t know what that is but happy ok you %uh defied to work
between reviewing the applications for review versus the merits cases and and do you read the briefs in hardcover
or do you read them in in online and and it just how do you do the work how
much to do in the office and how much elsewhere just give us a flavor of that
well one the things about jobs it’s portable and thank you know up goodness for technology it’s me it’s
more even more portable now but I am who wanted things when I
arrived at the court there was not as much technology and chief justice rehnquist was not
really all that interested in these devices called computers and that
internet and you could so every rabies as I said Chief you know we’re gonna
have to automate he said well you’re your you chair the committee then so the
ruler bears if you make a suggestion be willing to do the work so I mean we’re quite automated not know
actually wasn’t because it means cuz I stayed outta the way but I’m the I work very closely with my
law clerks my view is that got the smart kids there and they will all work together and we
will work as a team so the I do my own I do sir petitions
like son they always do my whom review poo memos on the weekend so when I go in on Mondays when I was
when I headed this way on Monday I gave it to police officer to read to return to the court but I always is
usually several hundred but I don’t have my spot but that you
got it Justice White said when I came to the court class you gotta have a routine you’ve
got to get a system you gotta do it and so you get a routine
and you stick with that’s what some people don’t like changes you you know you’ve got to have a real
so much work but you’ve got to get it done a certain
time get on top of so many cases you 1000 Papa filings last you gotta move through man I’ve gone
through virtually everyone for 21 years and you you so you get a system you know what
you’re looking for I do that on Sundays and on this was a man sitting week so
it’s it’s relatively easy there’s no pressure them arm with with reviewing cases I have never signed
a single case in my entire tenure I tell my locker ex
what I hire them everybody here’s an adult this is not a
day care center you don’t see KinderCare appear RB the I heart adults and everyone is to
conduct themselves as adults or himself or herself as an adult and so
they assign it to themselves 91 here whining and complaining that I have too
much to do and we have certain rules about
distribution work the rules that I lay out before the term
a really quite simple I have 0 excuses zero-tolerance for tardiness mistakes and excuses you take your whining elsewhere and I
expect everybody to be up and running when the term starts know there’s no
time for start-up than that sounds pretty
harsh but hey that’s life that we have stuff to do also give
people a chance to back out above the clerkship after we lay down
the rules the arm it’s it’s a pretty my wife that
were that’s a really nice welcome at you laid out but I think it’s just it’s on us and
pretty candid about without my expectations are and then when I go in the kids start
they the do the bench memos the states this on
themselves a cases and every clerk has to be prepared in
every case so we have what we call I read the
briefs on my own I just do i do hard copy from traveling
a dude on the job um on the good reader on on the iPad the arm but mostly I like to just sit in
my chair at home and read them on on in the afternoons or late at night so the we have clear conference for
every case the clerk who has a lead makes presents the others offer their opinions why do
you agree do you disagree why why clerks always Gophers I don’t want to pre-empt them with my
own personal opinions and bats in the with if we’re sorry the
opinion the clerk who has a lead draft the unit does initial dryer then
we have structured rounds about its its is built into our manual that came
from my early years I’ve getting a lot of really mushy for straps and having to cut down really bad long
opinions and I thought well this that make any sense
so we are opinions are refined and them I always
make always do the final round sometimes you
up this on big brown once part of our packet is we havin outline which we call a
disposition memorandum up for the disposition a every case so you start you just literally here’s
how we will dispose of this case and we have a preliminary before oral
argument and then we finalize that it’s always an
outline form so it’s about where you would start MSA or even you would start a research
project without my that’s what we’ve that’s what we and up
with after our conferences and after argument
and reviewing the breeze and it is then that
is then the beginning with together with the notes from
conference that is the outline for a draft opinion so but there’s a process for you don’t
you suddenly wake up in here it is there’s a process for and thats every
single case and that’s gone on now for almost 20
years so you have like history of what we the approach that we
took NY and how we we find that so once the opinions drafted them and I’ve
made the final at its then we circulate now we do most so that
I do my virtually every better my editing online or at least in in the in track changes which is very quick in get that allows
just like you I do most of the reading at the draft on
on on the computer and I work on the computer very high
tech no i think im pretty low-tech but arm my clerks insisted on my doing it
that way I because it is easier it’s because I
can emails or and I don’t no matter where I am I can
email at it so I can be in Georgia I can be I in Europe ike could be here i mean i
logged on this morning before I came over you couldn’t handle a lot of matters
very quickly and and clearly securely I don’t know
what securing more but I’m it it’s goes through secure VPN so see to approach constitutional cases any
differently than statutory administrative cases arm you know yes I’m statutory cases a candid tend to be
pretty straightforward for the most part
administrative law cases they have their the ambiguities but you know you do you
its it’s fairly I think you you read tax-paid I you sneak a peek at legislative history I up you know why don’t you know that looking
a legislative history just that movie grant still it’s wise that my
head you know where he says that he’s invited
as parties about what would I wear I know why that’s in my head out but but at any rate be I’m be I do I think that the the constitutional cases a
little bit harder it wouldn’t come to you if they were
either their heart I this look at my here I was left up but I it’s alright I in
you you you there are some of these things
you just don’t wanna see a penny more it’s like let me how to you regrets third on it you know
I’m em when we were doing the the were cases those or really really
hard cases and the I guess I a you sometimes get a
little disappointed the way people talk about them is there are you for this are you for
that and you just run it use aim a methodology I think professor
free freed was talking in his class today
about these various interpretive models which
I thought was really interesting because you know you sit
there and you trying to use existing precedent to handle something that’s different and what model do you
use would approach to use and so yes they
they tend to be fairly fairly difficult and it does
matter which one you choose they’re saying this is use the same as
students today that it do you know that you can
disagree with the moms but you gotta do something gonna have some motive analysis are
there any particular experiences or writers or ideas or
models that are most influential and how you
approach your tap well actually the best advice I got was
from larouso matzo grumman on the sober man on DC
Circuit another Harvard graduate whether all
around me and I’m surrounded the court by Harvard
grads but the he said when I became a district
judge she said on I just he said I won’t tell you how
to decide cases but here’s some advice I give you that you
project the case with this question how would I decide what is my role in
this case as a judge and that was probably the
best advice I’ve got not as a service and not as an activist
just as a judge in that has been a very
important piece of advice probably for me the opinion that I read
for inspiration is certain plessy I the I turn to it’s made me very far founder
the first Justice Harlan I’m the notions express met opinion were the things that those of us in so
even learned that way I’ll held onto in the south and I would I was very I am pleased to
hear that was justice marshall’s absolutely favorite opinion years later but the notions there were things that
made it that said when all else was going one
direction this was something that was was headed the right direction so I i
think that that would more than any other and the
honesty in there were I think it’s on this where he says his
views on matters of race is that whites will be
superior for all time but and the constitution knows no KS was no
color so I just sit that would be my favorite want two things as exceptional about
that opinion is you know many people’s it try to excuse the majority saying you
just have to remember what time would that what people thought the times the fact if his opinion and how we move
it shows that is no excuse you know he was the
only southerners sat on that in the from the I think he understood the that was a fundamental wrong yes and there isn’t you need in the social
science and you don’t you can excuse it but I’m all
these other things that came out but that was just fundamentally wrong in something you grow up in bed in you
that this is wrong so but anyway that’s my that’s my I
would have to say that is my best model what what makes for effective
advocacy before the court or survival of my colleagues I up oh that was a slip northward in don’t
you to me on them but a.m. the arm you know I think I go back to a constant
theme in mind I look I’ve been doing this a long time
someone comes up with some shrewd argument you know we’ve its ever heard of those
before I think honesty I think from candor you know I’m number one
technical issues when I argued was if I didn’t have the law I would always
admit it some I’m but you can go you have to say look
the law i’d people come to the court may say
this case an opinion you just throw covers us like a glove well and why do
we grant sir I whether we grant sir will not grant
certain say this covered like a glove I that the summary rivers or some
reaffirm so obviously at so you wouldn’t say that so what you say is that the logic love
that case get you there I mean that’s candidate it
this doesn’t quite get you there but the logic and then you explain I think Anders
really important not people may set up there and they may
not you may not think they’re smart as you are but assume they can go to
somebody as smart as the advocate the I think there were they’ve been a few
times since I have been when people have been quote less than
candid with the court that becomes a topic of conversation at
lunch in less than candid with the court their is no advocate who wants the court to say he or she has
been last then handed I’ve the quarter you’re done you’re done people are looking at US camps from then
on the I think you come up your honest your borrowing your work and your key
and that your honest on the I think that the it for for advocacy before the court
thing it requires a certain flexibility
because you gonna get pummeled I don’t know how people do it these days but I think you gonna get pulled back
and forth so there’s a certain flexibility but I think the candor and the honesty is in the
thoroughness so far more important that certainly in the briefs because I
think most the work is done in the breeze yes of course the car record is described as a hot
bench I don’t know what that means a their maybe that many of the justices
interrupt each other with their questions well I mean that’s just the way it is I
mean I don’t like it that way but that’s you know I’m nobody’s bus does it help or hurt it doesn’t help in my opinion I do understand that it
was chief justice burger who had the architectural suggestion to at least
have the the bench curve so people can see each other and
before each other top talk so there’s maybe a little less
interrupting and looked and I i think im gonna pass on that alright IQ not agree with I think it’s unnecessary deciding cases
that’s that many questions and I don’t think it’s helpful I think
it is to I think we should listen to lawyers
who are arguing their case and I think we
should allow the advocates to advocate what’s the most challenging part of your
job our loss of anonymity that’s not that’s
the hardest part I am the it’s not I mean deciding cases that’s my job I’m the loss of them me what’s your
favorite part of the job by law clerks I love my law clerks and the I like my colleagues I am but I
really love my law clerks been my kids good not in there my kids
become my family they I spent a lotta time up with them I
demand a lot from them they work a lot of hours they’re really
really good kids are extremely smart I’m I coat each with one my former law
clerks at George Washington University now greg matheson I love it I mean I
wouldn’t do is my kid he’s won by I just look at him is now older than I was when he clerked
for me I just love being with my law clerks it
just sorta like your offspring and they’re really really good kids with
different personalities I love being a part of their lives I
have monthly reunion with my former law clerks
monthly luncheon arm I just really I think these kids are what I would like to have been like
if I was more engaged in law school when been if I had an opportunity clerk I mean you’re close to justice marshall
I just think it’s just it’s a wonderful par the job I also enjoy my lot my colleagues very much I like them very much and finally with respect to the job I
like the idea that I get to live up to my old I took an oath and every day I’ve gone
in my job and my clerks jobs help live up
to that oath and I try to live up to it beyond that I don’t arm there’s but there’s not you know I can’t say
that I’m it whether it’s like or dislike: I just do my job just got asked to request an invite I
some questions from you all core your heroes my grandfather my
grandmother the people I grew up with but still I’ve
met a lot of people I’ve met every living president some those who pass read about a lot a great people but I
there’s nobody greater my grandfather on how an unlettered man
raised by freed slave reason part by freed slave was not
bitter was had the foresight to raise these
kids in when it when he didn’t have to was
responsible when people have excuses for not being responsible grew up with dignity in the south the
denied committee arm the admiration I have a bus him over looking me in the office in is
one of his favorite sayings oh man can is that I helped bury him so I just have undying admiration for my
grandparents so a there are others I admire the
people I admire justice marshall particularly
for his work across the south that the COLLADA got
you got us on those grounds I admire the judges and sell I admire my nuns who left Ireland in Cayman educated these kids and
Georgian and believe them us and didn’t go
preaching at actually did it so I mean there lotsa
people I admire people who do I admire I wanna be armed my law clerks who graduated from Harvard men one of them
the mother teresa’s orphanages for a year and then went on the Yale Law School was
just a good person admire that I had my wrists are young
woman’s morning what’s your name happen happen I admire
her the I admire that can encourage in that
kinda goodness in the person so there there and I mean you people
think that the people you my mouse with ease people who are
well-known I think most people I admire art that
well no and the pearly Carteret New Haven legal
assistance to the two timeouts you live in the
projects on Dec of pics well I haven’t to time to school me and she was a you again someone who lived in the
project that more wisdom then so many people I many many leaders
I’ve met so a but I could go i mean there are
many more but I’m not gonna go through the whole list but you get the idea powerful yes my
last question is what advice would you give to people currently in law school
advice about their school schooling about their
careers about being the kind of person that you know you really inspire me a person
who really cares about integrity about the values about respect what advice would you give well you know i’d I’m old fashioned I think
that I still believe in the old Virtusa being kind and being good to
people being positive being on there’s a lotta reasons to be negative
in society I can find like I was as telling that the mean that
I was out here I being in 1970 and because I was mad at the world and the that was negative that was
cynicism and negativism eating me up a true animosity and I felt
justified because of all the race issues I was really upset how do you let that go how do you say I’m not gonna despite harm treated I’m
not going to be that way I’m gonna be a good person I’m try to be
a good person it’s kinda fallen on de for years these
days or so old-fashioned to say you should just be virtuous you
should try to treat people the way you want to be treated you try to do your
best you help people who need help you put
you prepare so that you can be helpful one-line I like to use with
younger people is simply them you do well so you keep be in a position
to do good I and the if you can’t do well now you
can’t do good later and I don’t know what you and I don’t we
talk a lot about ideology in politics & these Mac growing global issues I think
a lot of things are are you treat your neighbor one of the
things I look for when I see people is that what other
treat the least among us the people who work in the cafeteria the
people who work on the elevator the cleaning people the people in the
hotel and that person that’s not a good person treats these people badly that’s not a good person I would never
hire anybody jerk like that there’s no way so why Zafar not a
fashion I think you you treat people the way you want to be
treated your Dr Reddy’s smart you wouldn’t be miss meagher you take your your business
here you don’t feel entitled The because I have the Harvard imprimatur
that suddenly it’s over now it’s just beginning but that worked hard to develop those
arm those habits that lead to the leadership
that you want some love you may believe that
homelessness is a problem will do well and solve it some %uh view mabel believe that we need
to deliver legal services to the poor well do well and deliver it some love
you may believe in a different motive constitutional analysis will do well and make the argument so
decide the cases you know I just encourage you at but
most about just try to be artist rather be good people
but do well do well in your turn will come Sumant
soon enough I was thinking I was doing the math in
my mind I wound up on the court seventeen years
after I graduate seventeen years when very fair and I’m made my final payments on my
student loan my third term on the court I so good luck I is there someone would like to ask a
question a short one would you gust and a baby come to my to
mind doing that and you can say your name yes I’m Elie Arama too well thank you so
much for coming on that so I thought the advice that you
received from just silverman’s very interesting and I was wondering um if you at any
point I felt Warren where you know if you’ve been a situation
where you felt that I’m the a stance that you were to take
you know based on your role as a judge conflicted in some way I’m with you know your own feelings and where you
felt uncomfortable taking a stance as a citizen as a person arm the let’s say there were some challenges
particularly early on in the evenin some recent cases where if I could do but I wanted to do I would do some do things differently
and I think they’d be surprising to some but I’m young you constrained by case it’s been you know over you know long enough go 20 over twenty
years ago by the haitian refugee cases are among
those those I was mourn with those because I’ve what it meant but you wind
up having have the discipline to do your job and
that’s pretty hard in once you ceased being a judge I can
you demand that others be the judge and not saw reviews the law to I’m impose their own personal
preferences it’s very difficult it’s less difficult
now but it’s of no less painful when you can’t do something where you think that something is wrong
expects question I have more so I’m bingo ago sure come on over
identify yourself hello I justice thomas I didn’t know my name is our on I’m A 10
I my question is do you think it’s a disadvantage for the
court to have all harvard and yale law graduates in oh well I get in trouble if I say
they’re yeah but trouble being my middle main no I I
don’t think it’s necessarily bad but I think it would be good to have
some of the others too is this I don’t think it’s bad that we
have people from one part of the country but I think I’d be better if we had people from other parts on the I think it is i their different
points of views out here and I think we should be there really
good smart people in some of the other schools you know
for example have a clerk this year from Berkeley I’m not a smart people in Berkeley on
this smart yet and this my people at Stamford at
least that’s what they tell me I the you see them they’re smart people
kids at Georgia or I’m Louisiana State LSU mind that
Miley locker twice he was from LSU she’s really smart IMF if I see you’re in fighting the bear out
going up the bear cassini I could tell you see as of as males and smart but arm I I don’t think it’s a problem I think
would be better if we understood their other schools too
justice thomas you’ve spent much of your career in public service oh
my goodness and the dole hut what would you say are are the
gratifications UHV serving the nation you know I don’t know
I this is my job I I as i said the kids
today I was arm I want to be a priest and I
don’t think you ever get over wanting to be a breeze but you would in that and I don’t mean
like saying my ass or anything like that I mean you always looking for a vocation
with my call to do and that’s why I went to Georgia why I
went to law school to return the Georgia thought I was called to return home and to lead same thing I said to to the
young people here that is to you do well to do good and that in pay and I’ll but are you wind up
being in public service I made a decision in 19 when I turned thirty years of age a that I would never take a job for
money that I would always be free I would
never focus on money but I needed money I
didn’t have any money meant a lot of empty apartments and beat
up cars on and and no vacations and things like
that but what it freed me to do with things I
believe that it always gave me the liberty to say
what I thought because I was never working for money I
never work for promove when I was the EEOC I had this rule I
wouldn’t put any pictures on the wall because people got fired a lot in these
administrations to serve the pleasure to president so always told my staff that I’d like to
be able to so the rule was that the president
called you on Friday afternoon and expressed great confidence wink wink was time for you to leave so you were
fired always wanted to be in a position to be outta there in 10 minutes so I would
never put a any photos on my wall and I never wanted
to be focused on any job so I’m never are
truly made my day I mean I just did my job and I fully make fully expected to be
right on Washington I expected to be fired at some point and
I have no idea why was it but I think you know I was grateful to be allowed to
do my job arm but I think not being focused on money imposition freed me to do what I
believed in so I’ve been fortunate throughout my life no matter what job
had to do exactly what I believe them you
were not only the longest-serving chair of the equal Employment
Opportunity Commission you made it fully disability accessible workplace I give a lot of that credit to
my chief staffers now Marshall the court I’m we did a lot of things we automated
we did a lot of things to make it an organization but I give allow that credit to the
people there aren’t they understood computers they understood how
to build systems and when we went to we wanted I I fully
believe how can we talk about all the sort of
are theoretical issues when their people
can’t get in front door the building so the what we did was we made sure that
was not gonna happen people have a right to show be able to come and do their jobs in so we took care
that I’m on yossi in I believe very strongly
about that one of my best friends was quadriplegic and I watch now a two inch per was like
Great Wall of China for you and I about this is back when I first
got law school about it never never what I be in charge of something
where he could not or someone could not be permitted to be
a part of it and there are lots of things I think we
do that with the opinions we write we write them in a way that they were
inaccessible to the average person and and so what I tell my walk towards
as we write these so that they are accessible to regular
people that doesn’t mean that there’s no law it but the language
their ways just simple way things to put important things in language that
success about so the the is I say to them the beauty the genius is not to ride a five-cent
idea in a ten dollar sentence is a put a ten dollar idea and a five
cent since wins thats beauty bats everything that’s
writing so the editing is we we do is for clarity
and simplicity without losing meaning encounter and without adding things that you don’t
see a lot of double entendres or you don’t see word plays in cuteness and
the opinions we’re not there to win a literary award were there to write opinions that some
busy person or somebody kitchen-table can read and
say I don’t agree with the words that but I’m then your sometimes the were all statements that you and your
colleagues will give in announcing an opinion are in more simple language than the
published opinion sometimes I it’s made me think that
sometimes the oral statement is what we ought to have printed well I think were trying to
communicate to the audience lose my mind really go no graphic way that’s me has been gone a long time for the I’m I think they were right in the in statements in the courtroom we
announce opinion it’s for the audience and so people are trying to make it
ecclesial accessible but I think we can do the
other opinions that way to without losing any other meaning and the I forget the
gentleman who is the author works with just scalia lot but he’s the
author Black’s Law Dictionary garner guard Bryan garner he yes me once he said why’s that your
opinions I think he said 25 percent shorter on average the new
Cali I had no idea without a follow-on i’m following me the stuff and he said I
said I think I would say it’s Aditi editing editing adding we do on lot vetting and its very
aggressive editing so we cut we eliminate a lot of trivial lot of nonsense from the opinions and I
do not like you miss in my opinion you know they save it
for your own stuff the effect with it is all meat and potatoes
that’s pretty harsh and ice and serve them one more question it can you come to
Mike sir ok everybody had a you okay moment well due to will do too go ahead
you go ahead you’re right there thank you for coming justice thomas my
name’s david has been done 30 and I wanted to ask given what you’re
talking about with varied backgrounds and the clarity opinion we use to
appoint a lot of politicians to the court in and I think right now on the court we
basically only have one non-politician and everyone else is served as a judge
for some portion it I’m do you think that has like inhibited the clarity and the ability to
communicate to the nation and that we’ve created even more complex analogies as a result
of that would you be in favor of appointing people to the court who come from different backgrounds that
are not judicial nature by are from aspects aside either ball oh
absolutely why not i mean but remember we’ve had courts
like that I think it’s cyclical justice white was never judge justice
o’connor was state court judge justice Kagan’s never
judge arm so I dot chief justice rehnquist was
never a judge so I think it’s I think it’s fairly
cyclical I was a judge for two minutes I I was there long enough that it was
really odd as in DC Circuit I ordered my furniture and its you know it
takes a little while I’m not being in the furnitures that you got a cheer fine
with good are you if you’ll need a new desk or
anything you know you not just get the guys in this you’ll
admit I’m good but the sofa furniture finally shows up him it’s got a tag on it and they
nominate me the Supreme Court I and so I always thought there was a
conspiracy to get my furniture for I really hadn’t been there that long so
you get really think you can put in low asterisk next to me
as a former judge chief justice that was a judge very long
below astor’s makes the AM so the I you know I do think there’s merit to
just like it said about school i think is merit to getting people from
I all sorts of from different backgrounds in different parts of the country why
not a state court went on state Supreme Court why not Minnesota you know I just think there’s all sorts of people
you can get that’s what I try to do with a higher law clerks I like to have some my wife’s at my
locker to like United Nations I like having some other everybody I
like every it is absolutely fabulous it is everybody
agreeing I don’t want that what people look at things differently
maybe the court would be you don’t wanna reasons that was great having people
from the west have you ever thought where you from Virginia ok eight so states like
Virginia don’t have this problem states like Georgia don’t have this problem when you get out west water is the
problem in the water issues are key well for those of us on
the east coast they say we don’t have water will draw well good you know where you got a mile apart
from you use but even the South it was like 10 feet
we are all the water we need so the having justice o’conner I justice why people from the West they
understood all those issues and brought it a sort of a base
knowledge to the court that was very helpful and informative know you the
fact that you worked a in-house for a company i think is an
important a insight for the for the court and they have people who’ve you have seen
business well you know I would like to take credit and
I i really I know you offer that in the spirit of generosity
but I was so low on the totem pole I wonder how much I can bad I was really
a low-level attorney and I wish I had had more access but I think that the job I would be
overstating my important stuff I’d accepted that can complement I probably
brought more from them on problem from on the age the attorney general’s office and from
on the hill them from the EEOC where I was actually
more engaged last question I miss yes thanks for
coming Eric Wright some a two-out I’m you spoke
what is beginning about starting with doctor seuss the
importance of books in your life and then about the sort have clear
concise writing you want your opinions and black ft yes so as well if you could
talk a bit for a minute about them the important
writers & books at you admire have been influenced by wow that’s really interesting you know i’d want to say I’ve read so
much Paul John cepeda added a whole lot yeah I’m the in the a.m wow that’s really a good
question I’m did I want to go to people like
faulkner and them but that would be elusive I’m being I’ve read a lot of Economics is goes awry I don’t know that’s a
really nobody’s ever asked me that you know I read a lot about books but
its i’d never its I don’t read them for the style that
I use I’m that’s really a good quick I have to
give that some thought I have the part on that and go back and think I read a lot but
the books along and some really kinda boring but is
really impressed from me euros it’s sort of funny you have the
stack of things that my wife’s as you are eclectic I read a lot I I really
enjoy reading and but I can’t bank other offer that I who style I follow that’s really thats cats you’ve caught me I you know what if I said something like I
am Harper Lee it’s good at it’s a good choice yeah you know I but I i really like clarity and could akin trying to think of someone now
because most people aren’t all that clear when you when you read for leisure if
you have any you read lots of history I’ve read a lot of history at the you
know again the have kicked say whether it’s economic
and economics or work or just I’m on I’ve really I got on churchill cake a
link in cake and get on world Civil War I think you
have to understand the Civil War two understand the 14th amendment we do a
lot of research arm even when the mcdonnell
opinion the go back and look behind the that whole process the debates
around the 14th amendment not because that started with a
preconceived notion just try to understand but I try to read a lot of
history um I used I read a lot of economics on I think it is imperative that or
incumbent on us white behooves us to continue to grow in the areas than that’s why I like good
scholarship as opposed to things that are just
vitriolic that the really get scholarship you say you stop yourself what you say I’ll I
never thought of that it’s a really other scholars to be mean
you don’t agree with you said all I never thought of that and
stop you in your tracks and you want to think about it and I’m you know I owe you one I I owe you an
answer and I’ll please pretty good now but I owe him an
answer I’ve never thought about which authors that I’m I’ve had to borrow things from so many in life I did stubs someone asked me recently when did I
finally become I grew up speaking peachy and our lease in my early life someone
asked me when did I finally become comfortable with the English language I said in my
thirties and probably run 86 or 87 and that was the
years love crossword puzzles and vocabulary
building grammar ring very technical and you
serve in in me in my graph and following the
rules of grammar I in reading again I’m at the I remember reading and ran at
sixteen or seventeen reading fountainhead Napa struck just in
there take me like 10 minutes 20 minutes to read a
page you know the words that look up every
word mother still have a little funk and black males that I use covers gone but the sold I can I borrow a lot from a lot of
people and I know there’s somebody in my mind
that I’m was very clear in in his overriding but it doesn’t come to mind right now
would have been something I don’t think I’ve read resupply would have to have been something I read
either in college or shortly after college and it may have been somebody who just
wrote briefs I mean I wrote a lot a brief very quickly
inside use a very simple clear style you know a
lot about it I can’t remember right now exactly who
it was or boost I like I tried to to follow but I don’t think it’s anybody
famous but if I think about it I owe you one
come by now yeah service justice Thomas you have been a.m. so warm and so generous I cannot
tell you how thankful we are I we began by quoting Alexander Hamilton via the words I’ve are wonderful while Yvonne here’s another Alexander
Hamilton that I thought we’d end on he said those who stand for nothing fall for
anything and I think justice thomas you stand for so much and we are so very grateful for
the your service to the country in your presence here at Harvard Law School thank you are
thank you for your call

23 thoughts on “Justice Clarence Thomas visits HLS

  • Ken Lane Post author

    Awesome and very interesting man to listen to.

    I really liked hearing his point about how you don't want everyone agreeing. He spoke to disagreements sharpening reasoning skills. And on that, I could not agree more. I may not agree with many opinions by some of the left-leaning justices at times on the right. But, I can only imagine how much stronger my own arguments might become if I were to encounter any one of those justices in a discussion.

  • Barry McGinnis Post author

    wonderful, inspiring

  • Dave McSteve Post author

    "And then I had a really bad interview". Classic.

  • Zach Cochran Post author

    Thanks, Justice Thomas! Informative and entertaining.

  • jasonjia123 Post author

    watching this instead of doing con law reading…worth it

  • moondanceff Post author

    I thought he didn't do ivies? Anyone else remember that part of the book from the nine by Jeffrey Toobin?

  • BostonRocks2012 Post author

    very worthwhile to view. Thank you for posting HLS

  • Punnoose Cherian Post author

    Haha, he did a good job pivoting from his non questioning attitude in the court.

  • jimmbo13 Post author

    If only at least because of his rich bass voice, I wish he would question more frequently in oral argument

  • dung ha Post author

    it is very interesing and to watch this^^ , broadening our knowledge, tks for sharding

  • evangelion13 Post author

    I was hoping he would do the visit without saying a word.

  • Yaya Happy Post author

    Very integrating…thanks for sharing

  • H Lynne Dickerson Post author

    Justice Thomas gets a lot of heat on his positions and court demeanor but I respect him for what he has accomplished and achieved. Cheers!

  • deusimperator Post author

    Bad interview lol lol One of my favourite opinion writers… but I love Scalia's 'cuteness' and eloquence.

  • DHTCF Post author

    A very interesting man, whom I admire even if I do not share his views. As a professional advocate, however, I welcome even difficult questions from the bench. Otherwise I may be prattling on about something the court thinks is irrelevant.

  • Supreme Court Post author

    Although I might disagree with almost every judicial opinion he has made, I admire him and have new found respect for Justice Thomas. What an amazing story

  • Tyler Potts Post author

    As awesome as a Harvard Law School is and difficult as it is to get into ( I didn't get in) I think it is totally unhealthy for the entire Supreme Court to be dominated by three schools. I go to rank 30-40 school depending how you rate it but I think there ought to be some more variance there

  • akbar rauf Post author

    i thought a lot of negative things about him but boy was i wrong .he is a great man

  • Ayesha Karim Post author

    Justice Thomas seems to be a nice man. He really achieved a lot in his life. He turned down Harvard Law School, wow?

  • Andrew Post author

    Wow….what an impressive person.
    Two big thumbs up for Justice Thomas.
    (And great job by the Dean asking the questions.)

  • Andrew Post author

    Wow….what an impressive person.
    Two big thumbs up for Justice Thomas.
    (And great job by the Dean asking the questions.)

  • michael andrews Post author

    the top judge..now that scalia is gone

  • 幹你老母Tommy Post author

    Justice Clarence Thomas is so brave… he……..upheld the status quo in EVERY decision. What a Brilliant Trailblazer for societal progress!

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