Supreme Court Nominations

Potential Nominee Sidney Thomas Sees Bankruptcy Cases as Microcosm

Federal appeals Judge Sidney Thomas has a resumé that includes 17 years of law practice and a career on the bench where he wrote at least one controversial opinion that conservatives plan to cite if he is nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thomas is a white male, but he would bring diversity to the court in other respects, the New York Times reports in a profile. His 17 years of practice in Billings, Mont., set him apart from the other justices, who spent most of their careers as judges, law professors or government lawyers. He graduated from the University of Montana law school, which would make him the only justice without an Ivy League degree. He is a Presbyterian, which would make him the only protestant on the court.

Supporters say those 17 years of law practice, where Thomas handled everything from bankruptcy to corporate litigation, gave him an appreciation for the struggles of everyday people. His love of bankruptcy cases carried through to his work on the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, when he told then-law clerk Kathleen Morris that she was wrong to complain the work was dry, the Times story reported. As she remembered it, Thomas said bankruptcy is amazing. “It’s about life, it’s about failure, it’s about overcoming failure,” he said. “It’s about dreams dying.”

Among those speaking on behalf of Thomas is a colleague on the 9th Circuit, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski. He told the Times that Thomas is liked and respected by both conservatives and liberals. “People really like him, really trust him,” he said.

The story describes Thomas’ opinion-writing style as “literary, even puckish,” and says his decisions can at times be “bracingly blunt.” Some of those opinions are being criticized by conservative groups, including the Committee for Justice. Curt Levey, the group’s executive director, cites as problematic opinions involving abortion, immigration and criminal law.

In one opinion Levey dislikes, Thomas allowed a school to discipline a Christian high school student for wearing a T-shirt that read: “Homosexuality Is Shameful Romans 1:27.”

President Obama interviewed Thomas late last month. He is one of four lawyers rumored to be under consideration to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

Related coverage:

Great Falls Tribune: “Montana nominee for Supreme Court intriguing choice”

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