Leonard Pitts: If the legitimacy of the Supreme Court is threatened, Justice Thomas, whose fault is it?

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To the Honorable Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States:

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, left, said in a speech on Friday that the justice system is at risk if people are unwilling to “live with outcomes that we don’t agree with”. His wife, conservative activist Virginia Thomas, center, has repeatedly urged members of the Trump administration to keep the 45th president in power despite his defeat in 2020. Drew Angerer/Getty Images via TNS, file

Dear Sir:

Have you ever met your wife?

Yes, it’s a brazen question, but it seems justified by your speech at a court conference in Atlanta on Friday and a question-and-answer session that followed. In an obvious reference to the explosive leak of a draft notice quashing Roe v. Wade, you lamented that institutions are “bullied” and said the justice system is at risk if people don’t want to “live with outcomes we don’t agree with”.

You said that despite your wife of 35 years, conservative activist Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, making headlines earlier this year when it was revealed that she had conspired with the Trump White House to keep him in power despite his electoral defeat. She has echoed his baseless fraud allegations and even joined the January 6 mob who rallied to overthrow the election, although she claims to have broken with them before they stormed the US Capitol.

Ms. Thomas, then, one might rightly say, is a poster child for those who would bully institutions or refuse to live with outcomes they don’t like. For you to raise these concerns with a straight face and no mention of his name to suggest that the two of you have not been properly introduced or that you are a man of staggering hypocrisy and profound intellectual dishonesty . One would hate to find these qualities in a man overseeing a traffic court, let alone in a Supreme Court judge.

Here’s the thing, sir: there are rules. Their buy-in, the ability to trust them, is what makes a society work. Some rules are written, others are not, but the fact that they are not does not make them any less critical. One of those unwritten rules is that high court collegiate confidentiality is sacrosanct. So yeah, it’s a shame a leaker leaked.

But he or she is not the first person to violate the court’s unwritten standards. One of your colleagues is occupying a seat stolen for him from President Barack Obama. Another fills a seat she was crammed into eight days before the 2020 election by the same Republicans who said nine months was too close to Election Day 2016 to consider Obama’s nominee. Some lied transparently when testifying in confirmation hearings that they respected Roe as established law. And really, sir, isn’t it a bit improper for the wife of a Supreme Court justice to be part of a plot to overturn an election? Or so that he does not recuse himself from the cases which ensue from it?

As Americans, we have traditionally respected Supreme Court decisions even when they were horrific, even when they set the nation back, because as stupid or appalling as they were, we viewed the court itself as an apolitical and duly constituted tribunal. In a word, it was legit. But in their bare-knuckle approach, the end justifies the means of the court, the conservatives have devastated this little civic faith.

It’s no wonder a September Gallup poll found court approval at 40%, the lowest Gallup has ever recorded, and down sharply from 58% the year before. We cringe to think where he is right now. And one wonders: if the tribunal loses its legitimacy, can its authority be far behind?

Faced with this question, your problem is that an anonymous leaker breached confidentiality? Sir, maybe this person is just wondering why they should have to follow the rules.

It doesn’t seem like anyone else is.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]


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