Clarence Thomas suggests Obama’s SOTU criticism was ‘irresponsible’
According to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the atmosphere at State of the Union addresses is too partisan, making it unfitting for a judge to attend.
But Thomas’ complaints about partisanship apparently didn’t stop him from taking a not-so-subtle shot at the Democratic president during a speech on Thursday.
The Associated Press reports, “Thomas told an audience Thursday at the University of Florida law school that some of the comments ‘border on being irresponsible’ and ‘run the risk in our society of undermining institutions that we need to preserve our liberties.'”
The controversial judge “did not speak specifically about the court’s recent decision on campaign financing or mention President Barack Obama,” the AP notes, “[b]ut his comments come a week after Obama took the rare step of openly criticizing the decision during his State of the Union speech.”
During his SOTU speech a week ago Wednesday, Obama said, “Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign companies — to spend without limit in our elections. Well, I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.”
Thomas’ fellow conservative on the court, Justice Samuel Alito, was seen mouthing “not true” during Obama’s criticism of the court’s ruling on the Citizens United case. The moment was likened to Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You Lie!” outburst during a speech Obama gave on health care to Congress last September.
“Depending upon political persuasion, both Democrats and Republicans cried a breach of etiquette. Regardless, the sparring of a sitting president, especially during his State of the Union, and a sitting Supreme Court Justice, no matter how subtle, is an unprecedented occurrence,” ASU’s Alana Arbuthnot wrote for State Press. “Those erring on a more conservative note felt that Obama had infringed upon the separation of powers; others felt Alito was out of his bounds for conveying his opinions.”
Tuesday night at Stetson University, Thomas told students why he skipped the address last week.
The AP reported,
“I dont go because it has become so partisan and it’s very uncomfortable for a judge to sit there,” he said, adding that “theres a lot that you don’t hear on TV – the catcalls, the whooping and hollering and under-the-breath comments.”
Politico’s Ben Smith notes, “A Supreme Court spokeswoman, Kathy Arberg, said Thomas has made exceptions to that rule, according to the Court’s unofficial records. He attended the 2009 State of the Union, and then was absent for most of the Bush years, returning in 2006 — a moment of particularly deep partisanship which may have reminded him why he skipped them, as he was absent again in 2007 and 2008.”
“He attended President Obama’s remarks to a joint session last February, a moment of relative partisan goodwill, and (wisely, it seems) skipped this year’s,” Smith adds.
Thomas’ past wasn’t exactly non-partisan before his appointment to the Supreme Court.
After graduating from Yale law school in 1974, Thomas promptly went to work as a clerk for Republican Missouri Attorney General John Danforth, and as an aide for him after he was elected to the US Senate three years later.
In 1984, while serving in the Reagan Administration as head of the EEOC, the Washington Post reported, “The chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that black leaders are ‘watching the destruction of our race’ as they ‘bitch, bitch, bitch’ about President Reagan but fail to work with the administration to solve problems.”
In an 1987 interview with Reason, Thomas said that he held “some very strong libertarian leanings.”
“I tend to really be partial to Ayn Rand, and to The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged,” Thomas said in 1987. “But at this point I’m caught in the position where if I were a true libertarian I wouldn’t be here in government.”
However, in that rare 1987 interview, Thomas did criticize the GOP for showing “very little interest in black Americans.”
“But I know that the vote of 9 out of 10 black Americans for the Democratic Party or for leftist kinds of policies just is not reflective of their opinions,” Thomas said. “The Republican Party and the conservatives have shown very little interest in black Americans and have actually done things to leave the impression among blacks that they are antagonistic to their interests. Even as someone who’s labeled a conservative –I’m a Republican I’m black, I’m heading up this organization in the Reagan administration–I can say that conservatives don’t exactly break their necks to tell blacks that they’re welcome.”