Author Topic: The Clarence Thomas Effect  (Read 576 times)

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The Clarence Thomas Effect
« on: July 12, 2019, 05:25:41 pm »
The Atlantic by Emma Green Jul 10, 2019

The notoriously quiet Supreme Court justice has had a far-reaching influence on the personnel of the Trump administration, which may be his most lasting legacy.

Clarence Thomas is the longest-serving justice currently sitting on the Supreme Court. For much of his tenure, court watchers and critics have dismissed his jurisprudence as largely irrelevant, demoting him to the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s judicial sidekick. In the public imagination, he is most remembered for his worst moment. Last fall’s confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh resurrected the debate over Anita Hill, the woman who famously accused Thomas of sexual harassment during his 1991 confirmation hearings.

And yet, during his time on the Court, Thomas has written prolifically and introduced ideas that have gradually gained influence among other justices. Of all the Supreme Court justices, Thomas takes an approach to the law that is arguably the purest embodiment of the conservative judicial philosophies known as textualism, which holds that the plain meaning of the text of a law is all that matters in judicial interpretation, and originalism, which holds that the Constitution should be interpreted only as its authors intended.

The most significant part of Thomas’s legacy, however, may take shape long after he has stopped writing opinions. Personnel is policy. Thomas’s vast network, more than that of any other justice, has defined President Donald Trump’s administration and the federal judiciary Trump has built. Through his clerks and mentees, the notoriously silent justice may end up with an outsize voice in the legal system for years to come.

Numbers are the first evidence of the sizable Thomas effect. He has had more of his former clerks nominated to federal judgeships under Trump than any other justice, past or present: 10, compared with Anthony Kennedy’s seven and Scalia’s five. Roughly one-fifth of Thomas’s former clerks either are in the Trump administration or have been nominated to the federal bench by the president. The clerks whom Thomas trained, has mentored, and actively stays in touch with are taking up lifetime appointments, and on the whole, they are quite young: Allison Jones Rushing, who now sits on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, is just in her mid-30s.

[Read: Conservative women are leading the defense of Kavanaugh]

These relatively small numbers offer insight into the broad influence Thomas has had on the Trump-era legal establishment. Even clerks who aren’t in formal positions of public service have gained prominence under Trump: Laura Ingraham, the conservative commentator who clerked for Thomas during his early years on the bench, has hosted one of the top-rated programs on Fox News since October 2017 and is an outspoken supporter of the president. Another former clerk, Carrie Severino, the chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, has been one of the most vocal advocates for Trump’s judicial nominees, including Kavanaugh.