U.S. Supreme Court

Justice Thomas Says Critics Shouldn’t Assign ‘Ulterior Motives’ to Judges

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Justice Clarence Thomas is criticizing the critics.

In a speech earlier this month to students at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, Thomas said critics shouldn’t be assigning “ulterior motives” to judges when they disagree with their decisions, according to Cornell law professor Michael Dorf, writing in an article for Findlaw.

“There’s a zone within which to criticize,” he said. Attacking the court’s decision-making process risks undermining the institution, he added.

FlaLawOnline also covered the speech, billed as a conversation in which Thomas answered pre-selected questions.

“I keep hearing people make up reasons why we do our business,” Thomas said, “and, it’s fascinating, it’s not from judges, it’s not from former members of the court, it’s from people who don’t do the job. It’s not easy for anyone—except the people who have no responsibility to do it, for the people who have never had to vote whether somebody dies.”

Thomas believes judges have different methodological approaches to deciding cases—and Thomas’ view of the need to consider original intent of the founders is an example, Dorf writes in his Findlaw column. But Dorf believes there is something more at work—even if it is subconscious.

“Justice Thomas’s acknowledgment of differences in ‘approach’ does not come to grips with what is also, perhaps primarily, a difference of ‘values,’ ” Dorf writes. “Justice Thomas’ view that judges and justices do not base their decisions on their ideological preferences is probably best understood as more of an aspiration than a description of how courts actually function.”

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