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Justice Thomas criticizes ‘nastiness and the lies’ he faces

JACK GRUBER/USA TODAY / USA TODAY NETWORK
                                Associate Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas was the focus of controversy over Supreme Court ethics in 2023, after reports emerged that he accepted luxury travel via yacht and private jet from billionaire businessman and conservative political donor Harlan Crow without disclosing the gifts publicly.
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JACK GRUBER/USA TODAY / USA TODAY NETWORK

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas was the focus of controversy over Supreme Court ethics in 2023, after reports emerged that he accepted luxury travel via yacht and private jet from billionaire businessman and conservative political donor Harlan Crow without disclosing the gifts publicly.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas decried “the nastiness and the lies” he and his wife Ginny have “had to endure” in recent years.

“There’s certainly been a lot of negativity for my wife and I in the last few years,” Thomas said Friday at a conference of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Point Clear, Alabama. “But we choose not to focus on that.”

Thomas was the focus of controversy over Supreme Court ethics in 2023, after reports emerged that he accepted luxury travel via yacht and private jet from billionaire businessman and conservative political donor Harlan Crow without disclosing the gifts publicly. The justice also sold real estate including his childhood home in Georgia to Crow and failed to include those deals in his annual financial disclosures. ProPublica received a Pulitzer Prize on May 6 for its role in uncovering the financial connections.

On Friday, Thomas recounted a conversation with a friend during a walk around his neighborhood years ago. “That’s before they started attacking my friends,” Thomas said. “I hope I still have some.”

Thomas also described Washington as a place where “people pride themselves in being awful.”

“It is a hideous place as far as I’m concerned,” Thomas said.

“It’s one of the reasons we like RVing,” he added. “You get to be around regular people who don’t pride themselves in doing harmful things merely because they have the capacity to do it or because they disagree.”

The Supreme Court for the first time adopted a code of conduct in November, but it said the policy mostly affirmed existing principles around judicial ethics. It also opted against a system for receiving and investigating public complaints that applies to other federal judges.

Moderating Thomas’ Q&A-style talk on Friday was Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, previously a law clerk for Thomas who became one of the nation’s youngest federal judges when then-President Donald Trump appointed her in 2020.

The American Bar Association rated her as not qualified at the time because of her limited experience, but she narrowly won Senate confirmation to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. She drew praise from conservatives in 2022 for striking down the Biden administration’s pandemic-era mask mandate for airline travel.

Mizelle asked Thomas about his tendency to write separate or dissenting opinions that question the wisdom of long-standing precedent, as he did with the constitutional right to abortion prior to the court striking down that right in 2022 with its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision.

“My granddaddy would always say, ‘boy, if it don’t make no sense, it don’t make no sense,’” Thomas said.

“I’m not going to reflexively go along with something simply because others have always gone along with it,” he added.

Mizelle recalled Thomas holding his law clerks to tough but clear expectations such as getting the work done perfectly and on time, which he said originated from lessons learned on his grandparents’ farm when he was growing up in south Georgia.

“If you live on a subsistence farm, you either closed the chicken yard up or you didn’t. OK, if you didn’t, you may not have any chickens tomorrow,” he said. “Everything is this fine line between getting stuff done right and existing and eating and having food for the next year.”

Thomas also praised the revised format for Supreme Court oral arguments that emerged during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The justice had a reputation for rarely speaking during arguments before COVID-19, which he said was because the format struck him as rude, with justices and attorneys interrupting and talking over each other.

“It’s much better. We allow lawyers to argue their cases,” he said. “It may take a bit longer, but it’s more thorough. I think it’s more polite, and you actually listen to the lawyers.”

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