Justice Clarence Thomas says the Supreme Court has been changed by the shocking leak of a draft opinion earlier this month. The opinion suggests that the court is about to overturn the right to abortion recognized almost 50 years ago in Roe v. Wade.
Conservative Thomas, who joined the court in 1991 and has long called for Roe v. Wade described the leak as an unthinkable breach of trust.
“When you lose that trust, especially in the institution I’m in, the institution fundamentally changes. You start looking over your shoulder. It’s like some kind of infidelity that you can explain away, but you can’t undo it,” she said while speaking at a conference Friday night in Dallas.
The court has said the draft does not represent the final position of any of the court members, and Chief Justice John Roberts has ordered an investigation into the leak.
Thomas, a candidate for President George HW Bush, said it was beyond “anyone’s imagination” before the May 2 opinion leak to Politico that even one line of a draft opinion would be published in advance, much least one full draft that runs nearly 100 pages Politico also reported that, in addition to Thomas, conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett voted with the opinion draft’s author, Samuel Alito, to overturn Roe v. Wade and a 1992 decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, who affirmed Roe’s finding of a constitutional right to abortion.
Thomas said that previously, “if someone said that a line of opinion” would be leaked, the response would have been, “Oh, that’s impossible. Nobody would ever do that.
“Now that trust or that belief is gone forever,” Thomas said at the Old Parkland Conference, which describes itself as a conference “to discuss proven alternative approaches to addressing the challenges facing African Americans today.”
Thomas also said at one point, “I think what’s happened in court is tremendously bad… I wonder how long we’re going to have these institutions at the rate we’re undermining them.”
Thomas also mentioned in passing the protests by liberals at the homes of conservative justices in Maryland and Virginia that followed the release of the draft opinion. Thomas argued that Conservatives have never acted that way.
“You would never visit the homes of Supreme Court justices when things don’t go our way. We didn’t throw tantrums. I think…it’s up to us to always act appropriately and not pay an eye for an eye.” he said.
Protests are also expected at the Supreme Court and across the country on Saturday.
Thomas was speaking to an audience as part of a conversation with John Yoo, who is now a law professor at Berkeley but worked for Thomas for a year in the early 1990s as a paralegal.
Each justice typically has four paralegals each year and the current pool of paralegals has been a focus of speculation as a possible source of the draft opinion leak. They are one of the few groups along with the judges and some administrative staff who have access to the draft opinions.
Thomas also fielded a few questions from the audience, including one from a man who asked about friendships between liberal and conservative justices on the court, such as a well-known friendship between the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late conservative Justice Antonin. Scalia. “How can we foster that same type of relationship within Congress and within the general population?” the man asked.
“Well, now I’m just worried about keeping him in court,” Thomas replied. He continued to speak in glowing terms about his former colleagues. “This is not the court of that time,” he said.
Despite his comments, Thomas seemed in good spirits, laughing out loud at times. Yoo, who is known for writing the so-called “torture memos” that the George W. Bush administration used to justify the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, said at one point that he had taken pictures of the notes. Thomas had taken during the conference.
“Are you going to filter them?” Thomas asked, laughing.
Yoo replied, “Well, I know where to go… Politico will post whatever I give them now.”