The New York Times features an editorial today about Clarence Thomas today entitled “The Angriest Justice.” The author argues that because Justice Thomas wrote a book that may not be “consistent with the dignity of the court,” he could be an impartial jurist.
The problem with Justice Thomas’s book, “My Grandfather’s Son,” is that it nurses bitter grudges and throws brickbats at organizations and people who opposed his nomination and might well appear before the court. Some of his targets, like Senator Joseph Biden and Yale Law School, he mentions by name. Others, like the American Civil Liberties Union, are not attacked as directly, but it is not hard to connect the dots.
Justices have an obligation to avoid off-the-bench behavior hurtful to the court’s mission and reputation. They must also comply with federal law, which holds that justices should recuse themselves from participating in cases in which they are biased against a party or lawyer or in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
First off, Justice Thomas’ book is certainly not inconsistent with the “dignity of the court.” There is no reason to believe that Supreme Court Justices have to write books about lofty modes of Constitutional Interpretation or obscure Presidential Elections. Sandy Day wrote a book about her experiences growing up on a ranch and Harry Blackmun played a role in Steven Spielburg’s Amistead. Justices are complex and facinating individuals and the editorial author in question here believes that the notion of judicial impartiality extends to judicial boredom.
You would be hard pressed to find a Justice who is not biased towards one group or another. Justice Ginsburg was a lawyer for both NOW and the ACLU, but she consistently hears cases presented by both groups (perhaps inappropriately.) I may not be fond of his judicial philosophy, but Justice Thomas should not be forced to temper his public comments in order to hear cases that arise from these organizations, especially when his comments are historially, and not politically, based.