February 4, 2010

Clarence Thomas loves to hang out with law students "at their joints, with dead animals on the wall, and old tags... and food I can't eat."

And for law clerks he chooses "the kids I like," with "a preference for non-Ivy League law clerks," because "I'm not part of this new or faux nobility."

ADDED: The discussion of law clerks begins about 39 minutes into this video of Thomas's remarks at the University of Florida Law School. He says he thinks it's important to have diversity, and his idea is to concentrate on his circuit, the 11th Circuit. So he'll look for law students who are near the top of the class in schools in that circuit (which includes Florida).

He's explicitly scornful of the bloggers who refer to the students at the less highly ranked law schools as "TTT" or "third tier trash." It's interesting to me that he's paying attention to the blogs (and, of course, I'm not one of the bloggers who would ever use that term). He also speaks of wanting to visit law schools in his circuit. He has a touching dedication to the southeastern United States.

By the way, this talk at UF consists entirely of responses to student questions, and the questions are excellent. If you go to that 39 minute mark and watch the part about law clerks, keep going. The next question — at about 42:30 — is about natural law.

AND: The material about hanging out with law students is at about 46:30 in the video. He goes on to say "I don't dislike the professors, but I come to law schools to see the students." He doesn't like big events, and he thinks it has something to do with his desire, long ago, to be a priest. He speaks with a real passion for spending time with students.

45 comments:

Big Mike said...

The guy comes across as real. I can think of no higher compliment.

Chris said...

He does seem very likable even though I'm not down with his view of conlaw.

somefeller said...

It's good he isn't limiting his hiring pool to Ivy League law grads. There's plenty of legal talent out there, and the Harvard-Yale-Stanford near-monopoly on Supreme Court gigs isn't a good thing. Still, it sounds like he's trying really hard to show that he isn't one of those Ivy Leaguers, though he hasn't exactly sent back his Yale law degree and I suspect he wouldn't discourage a relative who got admitted there to go there. Unless he told them they should do something other than be a lawyer, which wouldn't be the worst advice in the world. Then again, if you want to go to law school and not be a real lawyer, Yale Law School is the place to go.

Ann Althouse said...

Watch the video at the link. It's really good.

Chris said...

What video? How did I miss it?

Fred4Pres said...

Justice Thomas is right on this. Not that a lot of Ivy League students are not smart, many are very smart (and deserve to be recognized as such). But plenty of super bright, super intelligent students go to state and "lesser" colleges. They should have a shot at clerkships and higher positions too. To not give them access, skewers the clerks. It is wrong to do that.

Because in real life the cream rises to the top and that cream is often not from New Haven and Cambridge. I am sure Ann and Glenn can confirm that they have had students at their "lesser" schools who are legal eagles who can hold their own against anyone.

Chris said...

Yale and Harvard are self fulfilling prophecies.

Lem said...

He looks back fondly at things that were lost along with segregation.

That kind of talk could be easily misinterpreted by his detractors.

eve said...

Thomas is the real thing. His autobiography is very moving and his experience authentic and heroic. Very different life from our President's.

Kansas City said...

I met Justice Thomas once. He was very similar to the nice and normal guy described in this story.

I do have a problem with him, Scalia, and the four liberal justices -- you know how they are going to decide most cases before they even hear the case. Roberts and Alito may fall in the same category -- too soon to tell. Kennedy may not be a brilliant jurist, but I would prefer 9 justices like him who you do not know how they are going to decide the case. O'Connor was in the same category. It would take a higly principled president to go back to the model of appointing good judges without regard to their political philosophy.

I had one other criticism of Justice Thomas. I asked him about the discussions among the justices in conferences. He said very rarely does any justice change his/her mind. I was surprised. He went on to say he thought it was a good thing that persons know the judicial philosophy of justices and, therefore, how they are going to rule on cases. He said something about it was good that justices were predictable or reliable in their philosophy. I probably am not doing his answer justice, but I remember being very unpersuaded by it and thinking it would be much better to have open minded justices who would discuss cases and persuade one another on how cases should be ruled.

Julius Ray Hoffman said...

He might not be able to eat the food, but he can still have a Diet Coke.

Irene said...

He'd be a fine graduation speaker!

Larry J said...

I probably am not doing his answer justice, but I remember being very unpersuaded by it and thinking it would be much better to have open minded justices who would discuss cases and persuade one another on how cases should be ruled.

I think I prefer someone who has a steady and rational judicial philosophy to someone who doesn't. With Thomas, you can be pretty sure that he isn't making up things as he goes. The rules for the Constitution. I like that.

His preference for non-Ivy League clerks makes me like him all the more. Too many Ivy Leaguers have an entitlement mentality. In the Air Force, we referred to the Academy grads who acted that way as "ring knockers." They made it clear very early that they were Academy grads and should be treated special.

Kensington said...

He's the best Justice since Bufford T.

Kansas City said...

Larry J did a better job of explaining Justice Thomas' answer than I did. But, I think you can have a steady and rational judicial philosophy and still be open minded enough to engage in discussion that might change your mind.

One other point about Justice Thomas is that, while the fact that he almost never asks questions from the bench probably mostly reflects well on him as a matter of principle (I think he explains that he understands the positions of the parties from their briefs and wants to afford the lawyers the opportunity to say what they want to say rather than be interrupted), I think it is a mistake. First, lawyers like to be asked questions at oral argument and it gives them opportunities to address issues of significance. Second, asking questions can reflect an open mind (although justices mostly ask questions to show off, to argue their own views and to try to influence fellow justices). Third, and most important in my mind, it provides Justice Thomas' critics with ammunition to make the false argument that he is not smart. There is no question that Thomas could engage in an intellectual discussion at the level of everyone on the court (with the possible exception of Scalia and Roberts), but his failure to ask questions helps to allow lesser and significantly dumber people like Harry Reid to suggest he does not have the intelligence to be a supreme court justice.

Titus said...

What kind of food can't he eat?

I live in Cambridge and can't tell you how hard it is (hee hee) with all the Cambridge hating.

I love Jersey Shore, the guys are amazing.

And tits.

Titus said...

Fellow republicans what if your state and city are constantly ridiculed? We need love. Yes the red staters may come for exceptional health care and world class universities but still it is soooo difficult.

Group hug right now.

Husband's coming over tonight and we will be making our Bangalore trip plans. Valentine's Day will be spent in the Berkshires, First week of March Dominican Republic, perhaps head to Haiti to hand out relief supplies and then onto Bangalore.

Titus said...

FYI-I will be subletting my loft for $4500/month-nothing included. My Parking Spot is being rented for $250.00 a month as well.

Isn't that fabulous?

Class factotum said...

I suspect he wouldn't discourage a relative who got admitted there to go there.

After reading his autobiography, I suspect he would.

wv = undids. "He wishes for an undids of his Yale degree to go a school that wasn't so blatantly admitting unqualified African American students. His grades were stellar and he earned his admission and his graduation on his merits, but nobody believed that."

Titus said...

Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.

thank you so much.

somefeller said...

it has something to do with his desire, long ago, to be a priest. He speaks with a real passion for spending time with students.

Must not make joke relating to Anita Hill / Catholic Church sex scandals...must...resist...

ricpic said...

In upstate New York many of us are southern tier trash. That's a very inside geography joke 'cause who that doesn't live in NYS would even know what the southern tier is?

Beyond a decent level of intelligence is brilliance really all that important? Especially in the making of a sound judge?

ricpic said...

What's your favorite flower, Titus? Hubby's tush?

Paul Zrimsek said...

I think I prefer someone who has a steady and rational judicial philosophy to someone who doesn't.

Predictability is pretty much the same thing as wrongness, isn't it?

Penny said...

"Predictability is pretty much the same thing as wrongness, isn't it?"

That's a curious statement, Paul. Or are you an anarchist?

Skyler said...

I think it's a brilliant idea for Justice Thomas to decide to take clerks from "his" district. The myth of ivy league supremacy is getting quite old.

Paul said...

somefeller said...Must not make joke relating to Anita Hill / Catholic Church sex scandals...must...resist...

In retrospect, and frankly even at he time, the Anita hill heaings were the biggest tempest-in-a-teapot proceeding I can recall.

Let's see. Anita Hill accused him of asking her out on five occasions. She was so put off by him that she subsequently followed him to a different job.

Oh, and he made a joke about a hair on a Coke can looking like a public hair and a character in a porno film named Long Dong Silver, and she thought that created a hosile work environment. What a hothouse plant, I don't know how she survived high school. Shame on hypocritical senators like Orrin Hatch and the disgraceful Teddy Kennedy for pretending to treat those accusations as if they raised conscerns.

Skyler said...

Kansas wrote: First, lawyers like to be asked questions at oral argument and it gives them opportunities to address issues of significance.

Who cares what the lawyer likes? The forum isn't there for the lawyer to feel good.

Second, asking questions can reflect an open mind (although justices mostly ask questions to show off, to argue their own views and to try to influence fellow justices).

It's curious that you think that having a solid legal philosophy and understanding of the law somehow means that one doesn't have an open mind. One's mind should be open to new ideas, but most of the issues before the court aren't really that new, and most of the newness will have already been exposed prior to reaching the Supreme Court.

"Having an open mind" is often a euphemism for demanding others accept your ideas and dismissing the validity of theirs.

I suspect that to the degree that you think his opinions are predictable is really an indicator not of having a closed mind, but of having a solid understanding of right and wrong and the application of Constitutional law.

Third, and most important in my mind, it provides Justice Thomas' critics with ammunition to make the false argument that he is not smart.

Why in the world would this be even slightly important? He's not running for office.

traditionalguy said...

I thank you very much for this link Professor. I really love Justice Thomas. He is a hero to me for his character and for his humility. He values other people because he values himself over a lifetime of growing and contributing into the lives of others. Unselfishness is the only way tell whether you have met a real Christian.

Kansas City said...

Interesting points/arguments by Skyler

Kansas wrote: First, lawyers like to be asked questions at oral argument and it gives them opportunities to address issues of significance.

SKYLER: Who cares what the lawyer likes? The forum isn't there for the lawyer to feel good.

TO SKYLAR - YOU MISSED THE POINT. AS I UNDERSTAND IT, JUSTICE THOMAS' EXPLANATION FOR NOT ASKING QUESTIONS IS, IN PART, COURTESY TO THE LAWYERS AND LETTING THEM MAKE THEIR POINTS. I'M AFRAID THAT MAY REFLECT JUSTICE THOMAS' LACK OF EXPERIENCE AS AN APPELLATE ATTORNEY, WHO THRIVE ON GIVE AND TAKE QUESTIONS WITH JUDGES.

KANSAS: Second, asking questions can reflect an open mind (although justices mostly ask questions to show off, to argue their own views and to try to influence fellow justices).

SKYLER: It's curious that you think that having a solid legal philosophy and understanding of the law somehow means that one doesn't have an open mind. One's mind should be open to new ideas, but most of the issues before the court aren't really that new, and most of the newness will have already been exposed prior to reaching the Supreme Court.

TO SKYLER, WITH RESPECT, YOU ARE WRONG IN THINKING THAT ISSUES BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT ARE NOT NEW. THE PREMISE OF OUR COURT SYSTEM IS THAT MOST SUPREME COURT CASES INVOLVE NEW/UNRESOLVED ISSUES OR ISSUES WHERE THERE IS A
SPLIT OF AUTHORITY IN THE COURTS OF APPEAL. SO I BELIEVE IT WOULD BE PRFERABLE TO HAVE JUDGES WITH AN OPEN MIND. THE PROBLEM IS EXTREME TODAY BECAUSE IN MANY IMPORTANT CASES, THE FOUR LIBERALS AND THE FOUR CONSERVATIVES HAVE CLOSED MINDS, WHICH LEAVES ONE JUDGE TO DECIDE THE MOST IMPORTANT LEGAL ISSUES.

KANSAS: Third, and most important in my mind, it provides Justice Thomas' critics with ammunition to make the false argument that he is not smart.

SKYLER: Why in the world would this be even slightly important? He's not running for office.

TO SKYLER - I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT BECAUSE IT ALLOWS LIBERALS TO DEMEAN HIM AND THEREBY CONTINUE TO HURT THE COUNTRY, INCLUDING ON ISSUES RELATED TO RACE.

Ralph L said...

ALLOWS LIBERALS TO DEMEAN HIM
and thereby continue to hurt themselves with the rest of the country.

Skyler said...

Kansas, I think you're showing an open mind.

Who cares if the lawyers thrive on give and take? They're really not one bit important. I think it's quite polite to let them talk and let them sit down. Apparently, so does Justice Thomas. It seems you're quite closed minded as to what respect might mean.

The issues are not really "new" by the time they've gotten through the cert process. They'll have been written about extensively and the issues pretty much exposed. The only thing left to do is cast a vote and write an opinion to justify that vote. When was the last time something new was addressed in oral argument that wasn't considered before and written about? I'm sure it happens, but if it does, that means the lawyers failed.

Finally, it seems to me that liberals mock Justice Thomas because they control the terms of the debate in this country. It wouldn't matter what he did or didn't do, they would mock him. That's because they hate him. He usually votes the same as Scalia who does engage in banter with the lawyers arguing before him. Scalia isn't given a pass because anyone thinks he's intelligent. Instead they portray him as evil. So how does anyone come off better just by asking questions?

I think if Justice Thomas were to be concerned about his image, then he might rely on a solid, friendly personality and consistent judicial opinions that can be supported by faithful adherence to the law and legal principles.

Anthony said...

>He looks back fondly at things that were lost along with segregation.


I know what you are saying, but I think there is a wish that when things got better the good things about the good old days could have been kept.

My parents used to talk about the days when they were growing up, They were dirt poor, living in an Italian and Catholic ghetto ("A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" took place in my parents' old neighborhood, though they were born about 20 years after the book ends). They always talked about how great it was to hang out at Catholic events, or how they had 20 relatives lving on their block.

I wonder to, as a second generation American if something nice was lost when our lot got better and we moved to the suburbs and all that. Last year, I was attending at a Children's Mass at a Park Slope Catholic church and standing in the old CYO room, looked around and saw the old throphies and pictures from that long ago time. The pictures and trophies all seem to stop in 1959, when our parents and grandparents all moved out to the suburbs.

We Catholics may not live in a ghetto anymore, but we lost something. And even though what the blacks went through was worse, I can undertsand how Thomas (who is also Ctholic of course) wished they had held on to more of the good things.

But frankly, many of the good things could not be carried over, as they were reactions and defenses to the bad things. But you can still mourn their loss.

Larry J said...

Predictability is pretty much the same thing as wrongness, isn't it?"

I greatly prefer a Justice that looks to the Constitution for guidance, as opposed to cherry-picking foreign law or making stuff up.

Salamandyr said...

Predictability is pretty much the same thing as wrongness, isn't it?

I am completely flabbergasted by this remark. The two things are not even in the same category. Predictability says nothing about rightness or wrongness at all.

Please explain this statement in greater detail. As it stands, it makes no sense.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

"I think I prefer someone who has a steady and rational judicial philosophy to someone who doesn't. With Thomas, you can be pretty sure that he isn't making up things as he goes. The rules for the Constitution. I like that."

I get what Kansas is saying, but agree with Larry J. My readings of Kennedy and O'Conner in law school pretty much showed me that there was a lot of non-law entering into their decision-making. In other words, their middle-of-the-road-ness gave them a lot of room to work in social and emotional factors, which I don't believe has a place in Supreme Court law. Generally speaking, I prefer a liberal justice who has a consistent(ly wrong) philosophy to a middle-grounder who does what feels good.

Re: Thomas asking questions in oral arguements. Having been in a few, on both sides of the issue, I think that there is a lot of temptation to not let the attorneys get their point accross, particularly when being hit by 9 justices. It can be frustrating as an attorney (remember, they're on a clock in the Supreme Court) who had certain points that needed to be said but they can't get in because the judge wants to talk about something else.

Regarding the debate over whether it gives his critics ammunition regarding his intellect: His skin color and conservative values give his critics all the ammunition that they need. Sorry, but it's true- liberals cannot accept that a black man can think for himself, and nothing that Thomas says in oral arguments is going to change that.

Paul Zrimsek said...

When other people say things that seem to make no sense, I often suspect them of sarcasm.

Richard Fagin said...

With my TTT law school diploma, suspect law license (it has Alberto Gonzales' signature on it), and my Patent Office registration, I bet I make more money than any ten of those bloggers put together. That and Warren Burger went to law school at night while selling insurance during the day.

As the English say, "Quiet over there in the cheap seats."

FredP said...

>He usually votes the same as Scalia

In fact, Thomas and Scalia voted together 73% of the time. Six other pairings voted together more frequently, e.g. Breyer/Ginsburg 77% and Souter/Ginsburg 85%.

(Those were from 2004. In 2009 Thomas/Scalia voted together 87% but I can't find comparable info for other pairings.)

Skyler said...

With my TTT law school diploma, suspect law license . . .

Yeah, but do you have "power?" They don't care if you make money, they just don't want you or your ilk to have any say in the world.

Allison said...

Still, it sounds like he's trying really hard to show that he isn't one of those Ivy Leaguers, though he hasn't exactly sent back his Yale law degree and I suspect he wouldn't discourage a relative who got admitted there to go there.

Well, in his memoir, he does say he put a $.39 price tag on it and has it in his basement, rather than in his office.

He tells the story in there that Yale was devoid of intellectual excellence in its courses, put him into enormous debt and worse, that the degree didn't help him at all to get a good job after school. From his perspective, the name is only meaningful if you're already from the right pedigree, and black gullah Thomas wasn't that. Whether he was perceived explicitly as an affirmative action law grad or not, it didn't buy him any credibility with the big league firms.

In his memoir, he actively discourages people from attending there and other top tier universities. I am quite sure he does the same, especially for young men and women who might be perceived as affirmative action grads, or who can't afford the price tag without enormous hardship.

John said...

It seems that those of us who come from modest circumstances and who went to mediocre schools must look to the right rather than the left for someone to champion us. Where are the leftists who are doing this?

Dann Todd said...

@Skyler

I think you are confusing Constitutional principles with open mindedness.

A justice should be open minded enough to evaluate new circumstances as our society develops.

He/she should be equally committed to the Constitution as it is written and applying those principles to the new circumstances.

Rather than doing things the other way around.

Regards....

Skyler said...

Rather than doing things the other way around.

That seems pretty closed minded to me.

Shouldn't it be equally as valid, or even more valid, to first see if there is a clear meaning in the Constitution, and then if there is not, then go beyond it?

Otherwise, there's nothing really "constitutional" about the Constitution.

If we want to change what the Constitution says, this is possible, but was made intentionally difficult. That it is difficult doesn't mean that the proper method should be ignored.

You can use your closed minded approach to gravity too. You can see if gravity still applies in an age where we want to get into space and apply your principles to that, and then check to see if the law of gravity is germane only after deciding what it requires.

You'll crash a lot that way, but you'll feel good about it, I'm sure, to be critical of all the engineers who decided to observe the law of gravity and laws of thermodynamics while they land on the moon. They were open minded enough to not pay attention to your dogma.

Samuel said...

I got the opportunity to meet Justice Thomas at a speaking engagement at my university last spring. After the speech, there was a reception, at which he met with a gaggle that was about 95% students.
The man has a handshake like no other. He asked every student where he or she was from; when he got to me, I told him. As it turns out, he knew my town - his son used to live there as the manager at the Kroger's. So we talked about my little town in rural Virginia for a minute. I find it awesome (slightly creepy, but more awesome) that an associate justice of the Supreme Court knows the street I live on.