Justice Clarence Thomas Opens Up on Life, Faith, and His Interracial Marriage

Justice Clarence Thomas has served 27 terms on the U.S. Supreme Court, and agreed to become the 341st leader interviewed for my Daily Caller News Foundation series.

Now at age 69, he is looking back on his life with gratitude and discernment with valuable lessons for others.


People often want to define you by the bad things that happen in your life, he says, but there has been so much good amidst the challenges he told me, his wife, in this exclusive interview.

From a life that launched from economic deprivation, illiteracy, family dysfunction, and even time as a radical leftist, his accomplishments now reach to the U.S. Supreme Court—where he faces constant vilification and defamation. He says he learned the value of humility, patience, and persistence, but the bedrock of his rules for living came from simple aphorisms from his illiterate grandfather.

At a young age, he learned how to build bridges and find something in common with other people, be it sports, a hobby, religion or experiences, rather than focusing on differences and divisions. “Everyone has inherent value and is worth listening to,” he believes.

Looking back, he credits divine providence for path of his life. From the burning of a house, to being raised by his grandparents, to the nuns who taught in Savannah’s inner city, to attending the seminary and to getting his first job with Missouri Attorney General Jack Danforth, who was interviewing at Yale. Nothing could have foreseen his sitting on the Supreme Court today.

Faith, he says, gives him “the strength to do what I have to do every day, to assert the independence, to be willing to take the beatings, the criticism, the unfairness.” When he attends daily mass, he says, it helps him do his “job, a secular job, in the right way and for the right reasons.” It reminds him that his work has nothing to do with what is said about him, but is rather about doing what he took an oath to do.

“Everyone has inherent value and is worth listening to,” says Justice Clarence Thomas.

Thomas frequently turns to the “Litany of Humility,” which helps focus and insulate him from the distractions, criticisms, or praise that can come from this world. In his view, what really matters is whether you do what you are called to do.

As we talked about the biggest blessings of his life, he named being born in America, his faith, his son, and our marriage. He also spoke of his love of University of Nebraska athletics, motor homing over the last 18 years through “flyover country,” and the gift of being able to read. When you grow up surrounded by illiteracy with adults asking, “What this paper say?” reading becomes a true blessing. “It is like Christmas every day” when he reads.

On interracial marriage, he says, “If I were more progressive or liberal, [our marriage] would be considered progressive to be in an interracial marriage, but if you are not, then you are selling out.” He adds, “I don’t think of it as some statement. You’re my wife.”

>>> Flashback: 17 Things on Clarence Thomas’ Mind During Rare Public Remarks

Only after public outrage and congressional resolutions condemning the Smithsonian Institution’s refusal to honor Thomas in its African-American museum did an exhibit get modified. Ritual defamation by an antagonistic cultural elite who hope to reduce his popular currency and make his views radioactive, especially for any black American to emulate, has become the way of life for him.

Although he knows the difficulty of taking the public beatings for his views, he often remembers his grandfather’s advice in the 1980s of “Boy, you have to stand up for what you believe in.” He acknowledges a certain peace that comes from knowing you did the right thing, and talks about the importance of not allowing the critics to make you into someone you are not by overreacting negatively to them. He quotes the black author Richard Wright who said, “the worst I’ve ever been treated is when I told the truth.”

In an epic speech some 20 years ago to black judges in Memphis, Thomas boldly stated that he came not to defend his views, “but rather to assert my right to think to myself, to refuse to have my ideas assigned to me as though I was an intellectual slave because I’m black.” He wrote that speech, he says today, to draw attention to, “the right, among blacks, to think for themselves, the right to be that invisible man, to be the one who lays claim to his own thoughts.”

On the best part of being a Supreme Court justice, he praises our marriage to share the experiences, but also the joy of his four clerks each term. He promises his clerks that they “will leave this job with clean hands, clean hearts and clear consciences. They are “just a delight.” He enjoys the company of his colleagues, and misses those who have retired and passed away.

Don’t miss his jovial ending where he wanted to turn the tables on the interviewee.

For more, read Thomas’ autobiography, “My Grandfather’s Son,” see these articles or watch any of the 264 C-SPAN covered events of speeches he has given. To me, he is the best man walking the face of this earth!

Videographer Sean Moody is credited with the video work for this story.

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities for this original content, email licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

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Why the Supreme Court Shouldn’t Bow to Government Agencies

Many Americans would be surprised to learn that a series of Supreme Court decisions allow officials in administrative agencies—rather than judges—to have the final say in interpreting statutes and rules.

Administrative agencies touch on nearly every aspect of Americans’ daily lives—from highways to electricity to health, and often with limited supervision from the other branches of government. All three branches of government have acknowledged the problems posed by unaccountable government bureaucrats who perform legislative, executive, and judicial functions.

Congress has its Article I project to regain authority lawmakers have ceded to agencies over the decades, and President Trump is requiring agencies to cut two old regulations before enacting any new ones.

Now it’s time for the Supreme Court to fix the problem it created when it mandated deference to administrative agencies.

>>> Read more about “Doomed Deference Doctrines” in this new Heritage Legal Memorandum.

In that series of decisions, the Supreme Court turned on its head Marbury v. Madison’s declaration that it is “emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”

The high court held in Chevron v. National Resources Defense Council that when reviewing an administrative agency’s interpretation of laws it is charged with carrying out, judges should defer to the agency’s judgment if the law is not clear and the agency’s interpretation is reasonable.

Decisions in Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co. and Auer v. Robbins require judges to defer to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations unless that interpretation is plainly erroneous or inconsistent. Under National Cable & Telecommunications Association v. Brand X Internet Services, an agency’s interpretation of a statute can supersede a court’s interpretation, and City of Arlington v. FCC requires courts to defer to an agency’s jurisdictional determinations.

Taken together, these decisions stack the deck in favor of agencies. They require judges to “bow to the nation’s most powerful litigant, the government, for no reason other than it is the government,” as 3rd Circuit Judge Kent Jordan wrote in a concurring opinion earlier this year.

Several Supreme Court justices have expressed concerns about these deference doctrines and indicated their interest in chipping away at Seminole Rock and Auer, in particular.

Justice Clarence Thomas frequently has commented on the constitutional problem created by both Seminole Rock and Auer. In a 2015 concurring opinion, Thomas explained that “giving legal effect” to an agency’s interpretation of regulations “effects a transfer of the judicial power” to the agency.

In the same case, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that he would like to explore “the validity of Seminole Rock” and the “aggrandizement of the power of administrative agencies.”

Chief Justice John Roberts also indicated that he “await[s] a case in which the issue is properly raised and argued.” Though Roberts was more guarded in his views than some of his colleagues, he appears to be open to the possibility of revisiting—and potentially reversing—Seminole Rock and Auer.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote a powerful concurring opinion when he was an appeals court judge, arguing that the Chevron decision is “difficult to square with the Constitution.” Though the case addressed judges deferring to agency interpretation of statutes, his criticisms apply with equal force to judges deferring to agency interpretation of regulations.

The Supreme Court justices won’t have to look far to find such a case. A petition currently pending before them squarely presents the opportunity to review Seminole Rock and Auer.

In Garco Construction Inc. v. Secretary of the Army, a construction company that had a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build Air Force housing in Montana is seeking to recoup extra costs it incurred due to the Corps’ contradictory interpretations of an applicable regulation. The company lost in the lower courts (with the appeals court deferring to the government’s interpretation of the regulation) and asked the Supreme Court to take up the case.

The justices will have a chance to review and discuss this petition on Friday, Jan. 5, their first conference of 2018.

With any luck, the court will agree to hear the Garco case and heed the words of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who said a government agency “is free to interpret its own regulations,” but “courts will decide—with no deference to the agency—whether that interpretation is correct.”

The rationale for Seminole Rock and other deference doctrines is crumbling. It’s time for the Supreme Court to take back its authority to say what the law is.

>>> Listen to “SCOTUS 101”: Elizabeth Slattery and Tiffany Bates bring you up to speed on their Supreme Court podcast.

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How Trump Changed the Courts in 2017

Even before he was president, Donald Trump was clear about how he would prioritize putting Constitutionalists on the courts.

And now, at the end of 2017, we can see how his presidency is already having an effect on the courts.

On May 17, 2016, then-candidate Trump did something unprecedented. He released a list of 11 judges as a potential replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia, who had passed away earlier in the year.

On that occasion, Trump stated:

Justice Scalia was a remarkable person and a brilliant Supreme Court justice. His career was defined by his reverence for the Constitution and his legacy of protecting Americans’ most cherished freedoms. He was a Justice who did not believe in legislating from the bench and he is a person whom I held in the highest regard and will always greatly respect his intelligence and conviction to uphold the Constitution of our country.

The following list of potential Supreme Court justices is representative of the kind of constitutional principles I value and, as president, I plan to use this list as a guide to nominate our next United States Supreme Court justices.

Trump graciously credited the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society with providing names that informed his thinking on the matter.

In September 2016, Trump added ten names to that list —  including Neil Gorsuch, who was subsequently nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court after Trump became president.  Recently, now-President Trump updated that list by adding five new names.

The list was instrumental to Trump winning the election.  It helped assuage the concerns of many conservatives and independents who were skeptical about Trump, but who cared a lot about the direction of the Supreme Court and the law and who did not want Hillary Clinton nominating the next Supreme Court justice.

The well-crafted list persuaded a lot of wavering voters that, at least with respect to the courts, they could trust Trump to nominate judges in the mold of Scalia and Clarence Thomas, that is to say originalists and textualists.  Moreover, the Trump administration made clear that it would prioritize nominating highly-qualified men and women to fill life-tenured positions on the federal bench.

So how has the president done in his first year in office in terms of making good on that promise?  Quite well indeed.

While the crowning achievement of the year was clearly the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, it is worth celebrating the fact that the Senate confirmed 12 Circuit Court judges this year —  the largest number of  appellate judges confirmed during the first year of any president in history (beating out John Kennedy and Richard Nixon by one).

While the Supreme Court only hears about 70 cases per year, the federal appellate courts consider roughly 50,000 cases per year.  In a very real way, therefore, the buck often stops at the lower appellate courts when it comes to deciding important legal issues.

The White House made filling these crucial appellate vacancies a priority, and that strategy has paid off in spades.  The intellect and overall caliber of each of the confirmed appellate judges — Stephanos Bibas (3rd Circuit), Jim Ho (5th Circuit), Don Willett (5th Circuit), Amul Thapar (6th Circuit), John Bush (6th Circuit), Joan Larsen (6th Circuit), Amy Coney Barrett (7th Circuit), Steve Grasz (8th Circuit), Ralph Erickson (8th Circuit), Allison Eid (10th Circuit), Kevin Newsome (11th Circuit), Greg Katsas (D.C. Circuit)   —  has been exemplary.  In short order, I expect them to become intellectual leaders on the courts where they serve.

The full Senate will soon consider David Stras for another vacancy on the 8th Circuit and Kyle Duncan for a vacancy on the 5th Circuit, and last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing for Lisa Branch for a vacancy on the 11th Circuit. All are outstanding nominees who are likely to be confirmed.

Of course it’s not been all sunshine and roses.  There have been some hiccups along the way, most prominently with the recent, highly-publicized withdrawal of three federal district court nominees.

Moreover, while Trump has now set the record for circuit court confirmations during a president’s first year in office, with only 19 total judges confirmed during his first year, he lags far behind other presidents  — including George W. Bush (28), Bill Clinton (28, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg), Ronald Reagan (41, including Sandra Day O’Connor), Jimmy Carter (31), and Richard Nixon (25)  —  in terms of the total number of judges confirmed.

And it’s not difficult to figure out why.

Having lost the ability to filibuster judicial nominees  —  when then-Majority Leader Harry Reid exercised the “nuclear option” in November 2013 in order to pack the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals with three Obama nominees  —  the Democrats attempted to use the blue slip process as a one-senator veto of judicial nominees, until Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, effectively put an end to that abusive practice, at least with  appellate nominees.

As they have with many of the president’s executive branch nominees, the Democrats have gummed up the process for judicial nominees by forcing the Republican majority to take cloture votes on 18 of the 19 judges who were confirmed this year.  By comparison, the Senate was forced to take a cloture vote on only one of President Barack Obama’s nominees during his first year in office, and no closure votes were required during the first year of any other president dating back to Richard Nixon.

Each of these cloture votes —  including for judicial nominees who are completely non-controversial  —  causes unnecessary delays (up to 30 hours after cloture is invoked) on the floor of the Senate before a nominee receives a vote.  The Senate is currently considering several proposals to address this issue going forward.

With 167 current and future vacancies that have already been announced, with 50 nominees pending to fill those vacancies (including 10 who were announced Wednesday), there is clearly more work to do.

Nonetheless, it is worth taking a moment to offer congratulations and kudos to President Trump, White House Counsel Don McGahn, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley for a job spectacularly well done!

The post How Trump Changed the Courts in 2017 appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Supreme Court Tellingly Rejects Lower Court Roadblock to Elimination of DACA Program

On Dec. 20, in an unsigned, four-page opinion, the Supreme Court struck down a lower court order that severely burdened efforts by the  Trump administration to end the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), which has shielded certain younger illegal aliens from deportation.

This is good news, a helpful sign that the Supreme Court will not give unelected judges carte blanche to hamstring the federal government’s legitimate efforts to enforce immigration law restrictions, consistent with the current statutory law.

Continuation of DACA offends the rule of law. As Heritage Foundation scholar Hans von Spakovsky has explained, DACA should be eliminated as a matter of law:  “Why?  Because the president doesn’t have the authority to decide who should be in the United States legally when it comes to immigrants.  That power resides entirely in Congress [because] . . . the Constitution says it”.

In short, allowing a category of illegal aliens not to be deported requires an act of Congress, not an arbitrary presidential decision.

DACA was established in 2012 by a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memorandum.  It applied to a large number of young illegal aliens who met certain conditions: they illegally entered the U.S. before the age of 16; were under the age of 31; had “continuously” resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007; and were in school, graduated, or honorably discharged from the military.  DACA provided a period of deferred action (a promise that the alien would not be deported) as well as access to certain government benefits (including work authorizations, Medicare, Social Security,, and the earned income tax credit). The period of deferred action was initially for two years, but that period was extended to three years by a second DHS memorandum on November 14, 2014. The Trump administration took a different approach. On Sept. 5 then-Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke issued a new memorandum terminating the DACA program and all benefits provided under it effective March 18, 2018, unless President Donald Trump provides another extension of the program or Congress passes a bill addressing the issue.  The acting secretary stated that her determination was based in part on the attorney general’s conclusion that DACA was unlawful and likely would be enjoined in potentially imminent litigation.

Shortly thereafter, the administration found itself in a legal battle. Five related lawsuits challenging the acting secretary’s Sept.5 determination were filed in a federal district lower court in California.  The suits argued that the determination violated the Administrative Procedure Act(which governs the way in which federal administrative agencies may propose and establish regulations), and denied affected aliens due process and equal protection under the law.

On Oct. 17, the district court issued an order accepting plaintiffs’ contention that the 256 page record DHS used to support its Sept.5 determination was “incomplete.”  In so doing, the court imposed an enormous burden on the government, ordering it to turn over all “emails, letters, memoranda, notes, media items, opinions and other materials” that fell into several broad categories.

The Justice Department unsuccessfully challenged this ruling before the largely liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and then appealed to the Supreme Court.

In its short unsigned opinion, the Supreme Court held that, before imposing its heavy-handed documentary request, the district court first should have ruled on the government’s two “serious” threshold arguments – that the decision to terminate DACA was unreviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act  because it was “committed to agency discretion,” and that the Immigration and Nationality Act deprived the lower court of jurisdiction.  As the Court explained, “[e]ither of those arguments, if accepted, likely would eliminate the need for the [d]istrict [c]ourt to examine a complete administrative record.”

Accordingly, the Supreme Court ordered the district court to rule on the government’s threshold arguments and certify its ruling for immediate appeal “if appropriate.”  Thereafter, if the case was not dismissed, the district court and the Ninth Circuit “may consider whether narrower amendments to the record are appropriate.”  The Supreme Court concluded by stating that its order “does not suggest any view on the merits of” the case.

In sum, although the Supreme Court has removed (for now) one unnecessary burden to elimination of DACA, the final judicial word has not been said.  Let us hope that, in considering this case, the federal courts remember that it is their job to construe the law and say what it is – not to impose their subjective immigration policy preferences on the American people.

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