There is no question that the court has become politicized, to its great detriment and that of the nation. But being lectured on that fact by Judge Thomas, of all people, is like listening to a plutocrat lounging by his infinity pool in a bathrobe, eating a golden steak while lamenting the horrors of extreme poverty. income inequality.
Has it really not occurred to justice that by giving partisan political speeches in partisan political environments, it is precisely he who is damaging the integrity of the Supreme Court? Perhaps being spoiled with prestige and power for so long makes it easy to ignore the consequences of your words and actions. Judge Thomas is not alone in that regard, of course. In 2004, Justice Antonin Scalia went duck hunting with Vice President Dick Cheney and agreed to fly with him for free, even while Mr. Cheney had a case pending in court. In 2016, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called Trump “a phony” in a CNN interview. “I can’t imagine what the country would be like, with Donald Trump as our president,” she told the Times in a previous interview. The Times editorial board criticized the judges’ behavior in both cases, arguing that, as we said at the time, they should watch what they say and do “in the interests of justice and the court’s reputation.”
These days, Justice Thomas and his fellow right-wingers hardly pretend to care about the court’s reputation; they simply complain of public outrage at their failings, even as they flaunt the most politicized majority in living memory. There are now two members of the court, Justice Thomas and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who have attacked Democrats and liberals, as a group, in public places. (Small World Dept.: Justice Kavanaugh, who accused Democrats at his 2018 confirmation hearing of an “orchestrated political coup” against him and warned they had “sown the wind,” was a member of the legal team that helped Bush to prevail in the electoral struggle of 2000).
Even the Senate Republicans’ outrageous engineering of the court’s current right-wing majority seems to have escaped Justice Thomas’ concern. At Friday’s event, again, remember, sponsored by conservative groups, he claimed that Republicans had “never trashed a Supreme Court nominee.” Yet doesn’t history record that they openly stole a vacancy from President Barack Obama in 2016 by refusing even to give his third nominee, Merrick Garland, an audience? To the contrary, according to Justice Thomas: Mr. Garland “didn’t get a hearing, but he wasn’t ripped apart.” As Tom Cruise’s hitman in “Collateral” said after shooting a man who later fell from a tall building, “I shot him. The bullets and the fall killed him.”
The Supreme Court has always operated within and not outside of politics; like the rest of our government, it is made up of human beings. Still, the judges have generally gone out of their way to stay out of the fray. In the interest of protecting and promoting their institutional legitimacy, they have come together to decide some of the most contentious cases; the vote in Brown was 9 to 0, in Roe 7 to 2. Right-wing justices today seem to have no qualms about narrow victories, although five of them were appointed by presidents who won the presidency for the first time after lose the popular vote. Perhaps his impudence is not in spite of this fact but because of it. They rose to their high position in a way that disregarded most of the American people, so why not rule that way too?
The Supreme Court is not there to vindicate the demands of the majority, but neither is it to mock that majority over and over again, in an openly partisan manner. If Justice Thomas is truly concerned about the erosion of faith in his own institution, the first thing he can do is look in the mirror. The next thing he can do, I’ll say it again, is step aside and give the job to someone who will actually work to protect the integrity of the court.