On a stormy July 4, 1826, John Adams, the second president of the United States, lay dying in his Massachusetts home. His last words, according to the family in attendance, were: “Thomas Jefferson survives.”
His friend and fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence had actually died earlier that day at Monticello, in Virginia — both men survived exactly 50 years to the day since that very first Fourth of July in 1776.
George H.W. Bush — the 41st president of the United States — died a few days ago.
Clarence Thomas survives.
He has not only outlived the president who nominated him — he has outlasted three more. Aged 70, he is now the Court’s longest-serving associate justice and the most senior conservative justice, following the death of his friend Antonin Scalia in 2016.
In apparent good health, Thomas could very well outlast several more presidents.
He almost didn’t make it onto the court at all, but former President Bush stuck with him and never relented.
Thomas was infamously accused, Salem Witch Trial-style, of sexual harassment via leaked documents which surfaced in the media after his 1991 confirmation hearings were nearly over. The allegations by a former colleague, Anita Hill, ignited a media circus of He Said, She Said.
Hill’s accusations (like those of Christine Blasey Ford against Justice Brett Kavanaugh) were never substantiated, and Thomas (like Kavanaugh) was ultimately confirmed.
His real crime — for which he was never formally “indicted” — was his judicial philosophy, which was very much at odds with the philosophy of his predecessor, Thurgood Marshall.
Thomas is that dreaded thing to liberals: a constitutional constructionist. He’s also an African-American success story, born in Pin Point, Georgia into a community of freedmen, founded after the Civil War. Bush was a talent scout and with Thomas, he found a slugger.
Philosophically, Thomas does not conjure ghostly penumbras and emanations such as those observed floating in the ether by Justice William O. Douglas. He does not consider the Constitution to be a “living document,” as Marshall did.
That is to say, a fungible document — one that can mean anything the Court wishes it to mean.
Marshall openly despised the Constitution as written, calling it “defective” and deriding its authors as lacking “wisdom,” “foresight,” and a “sense of justice.” Marshall spent his career on the Court attempting to correct the “flawed” Constitution — the one he swore to uphold and protect.
Thomas, in contrast, does not think it is his job to make law, but rather to decide cases according to it.
He carefully reads the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — the foundational laws of this country — and considers the intent of the men who wrote them, whom he does not consider to have been lacking “wisdom,” “foresight,” or a “sense of justice.”
Any legal question put before him is considered within this context.
Not his context.
This puts Justice Thomas and other constructionists at odds with the orthodoxies of the political left and its amen chorus in the media, which bizarrely regards adherence to the Constitution as something illegitimate.
The left views the role of a Supreme Court Justice as a kind of post-hoc corrective to electoral and legislative failure; a means by which to impose via judicial fiat that which the voters and their elected representatives have opposed.
To get around the Constitution, in other words.
This is why the left is so inquisitorial about the personal views of Supreme Court nominees — including most recently those of Kavanaugh — and so up in arms when a nominee is announced who isn’t a known “judicial activist.”
That is to say, someone like Thomas, whose decisions will be guided by what the Constitution says rather than by what they feel it ought to have said.
The framers, in their wisdom, took great care to specifically immunize the justices from the vagaries of politics via the mechanism of lifetime appointments in order to eliminate the pressure of politics from influencing the court’s decisions.
But the left, which venerates “democracy,” so long as it comports with the agenda of the left, has been using the court to legislate from the bench what it has been unable to achieve at the ballot box.
The left went after Thomas with unprecedented viciousness during his confirmation hearings back in 1991 because they knew he would act as a constitutional corrective to judicial activism.
They feared he would limit his rulings on the law according to the law.
But respecting what the Constitution actually says — and what the framers clearly intended — isn’t a usurpation. It is precisely what a Supreme Court justice is supposed to do.
And it’s what Thomas has been doing for almost 30 years now, and with luck, many more years to come.
This is arguably the greatest legacy of the late President Bush. Not every President hits home-runs on SCOTUS picks. Nixon and Reagan whiffed on a bunch, and Bush 43 attempted to put Harriet Miers his White House Counsel on the court, but with Justice Thomas, Bush 41 put an indelible mark on both judicial and American history.
A.J. Rice is the CEO of Publius PR. In his media career, he has produced or promoted Laura Ingraham, Judge Jeanine Pirro, George P. Bush, Monica Crowley, Corey Lewandowksi, Steve Hilton, Pastor Paula White, Coach Howard Schnellenberger, and many others. Find out more at publiuspr.com.