Associate Justice Clarence Thomas appeared to take on President Obama this week in discussing the ruling in Citizens United — contradicting the President’s portrayal in the State of the Union. In my view, the President did overstate the holding (not unheard of in the halls of Congress), but I continue to despair over the increasing public role played by justices (here). In my view, Thomas should not be engaging in such a public debate and should allow these decisions to speak for themselves.
In an earlier entry, I stated that I believed that Associate Justice Samuel Alito should apologize for his shaking his head and mouthing “not true” in response to the President’s statements. It was not just injudicious but a direct violation of a tradition of strict neutrality for justices attending such events.
Now, Thomas appears eager to join the fray. He took a shot at commentators with the observation that “I found it fascinating that the people who were editorializing against it were The New York Times Company and The Washington Post Company.” A fair point, but I find it fascinating that justices now believe that they can write opinions and then hop on a speaking circuit to defend them like some politician. Given the growing view of the Court as driven by politics since the Bush v. Gore decision, this type of campaigning in support of a decision only serves to undermine the Court’s credibility further.
While Thomas did not directly discuss the President’s words, he made it clear that he disagreed with such criticism.
I have previously objected to such appearances by Justice Scalia and have strongly supported a return to the traditional view of justices, who largely avoided public speaking engagements beyond ceremonial remarks at graduations.
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