SALT LAKE CITY, AP — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said he fears efforts to politicize the court or add more justices will undermine the institution’s credibility, speaking Friday in Utah at an event hosted by former Republican Senator Orrin Hatch’s foundation.
Thomas, the senior judge on the nine-member tribunal, said he often worries about the long-term repercussions of trends such as “cancellation culture” and the lack of civil debate.
“You can talk cavalierly about packing or stacking the pitch. You can talk cavalierly about doing this or doing that. At some point, the institution is going to be compromised,” he told an audience of about 500 at an upscale Salt Lake City hotel.
“By doing this, you continue to undermine the respect for institutions that the next generation will need if they want to have a civil society,” Thomas said.
This year’s rulings will establish laws on burning political issues, including abortion, guns and the right to vote.
The court has leaned increasingly conservative since three judges appointed by former President Donald Trump joined its ranks. Progressives in turn have called for increasing the number of justices on the court, including in the 2020 presidential primary. Democrats in Congress last year introduced a bill to add four justices to the bench, and President Joe Biden has convened a commission to study the court’s expansion.
“I’m afraid, especially in this world of attacks on cancel culture, I don’t know where you’re going to learn to engage like we did when I was growing up,” he said. declared. “If you don’t learn that level in high school, high school, in your neighborhood, or in civic organizations, then how do you get it when you’re making decisions in government, in the legislature, or in the courts?”
Along with condemning “cancellation culture,” Thomas also lambasted the media for cultivating inaccurate impressions of public figures – including himself, his wife and the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Ginni Thomas, wife of Justice Thomas and longtime conservative activist, has come under scrutiny this year for her political activity and involvement in groups that file briefs on Supreme Court cases, as well as for using his Facebook page to amplify partisan attacks.
As Congress prepares to hold confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Thomas recalled his 1991 confirmation process as a humbling and embarrassing experience that taught him not to be overly prideful. During congressional hearings, lawmakers questioned Thomas about the sexual harassment allegations of former employee Anita Hill, leading him to call the experience a “high-tech lynching.”
If confirmed, Jackson would be the first black woman on the court and join Thomas as the current court’s second black judge.
Thomas, who grew up in Georgia during segregation, said he considers civility one of his highest values. He said he learned to respect institutions and to argue civilly with those who disagreed with him during his school years. Based on conversations he’s had with students at his college lectures in recent years, he said he doesn’t think colleges are welcoming places for productive debate, especially for students who support what he described as traditional or anti-abortion families.
Thomas did not refer to the future of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that extended abortion rights nationwide. This year, the court is due to rule on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and whether Mississippi can ban abortions at 15 weeks. While the court deliberates the case, lawmakers in Florida, West Virginia and Kentucky are proposing similar legislation in hopes that the court will overrule Roe and set a new precedent.
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