Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has long been praised for his constitutionalist interpretation of the US Constitution, making him a hero in conservative circles. Justice Thomas himself, however, has typically shied away from public statements–which is arguably appropriate, given that Supreme Court Justices are expected to remain non-partisan.
In a rare interview on Laura Ingraham’s new TV program, The Ingraham Angle, Justice Thomas gave a dire warning about what he considers to be a danger to the free-flow of ideas in the US. According to The Washington Times, Justice Thomas suggested American society is becoming too “comfortable” with limiting ideas.
The widely respected Supreme Court Justice spoke in response to his having been excluded from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture in its inaugural year.
Justice Thomas was only added in September, just prior to the Museum’s one-year anniversary. Before that, the only place the constitutionalist Justice was mentioned was in an entry about his controversial confirmation hearings, which were marred by discussions about unfounded sexual harassment allegations from a former aide.
Conservatives largely saw the omission as a sign of conservative bias among the administrators at the Smithsonian. But Justice Thomas maintains he didn’t care that he was originally excluded, even if his friends and associates did.
“People who cared about me obviously did [care], but no, not really,” he said. The Justice then explained that the seeming censorship of ideas runs contrary to the open-mindedness he encountered during the intellectual formation of his youth.
“I grew up in a time when I was just exposed to a wonderful range of ideas in a segregated library,” Justice Thomas explained, going on to say that he was exposed to a wide array of diverse thinkers, from Booker T. Washington to W.E.B. Du Bois.
“So you had this range of ideas, and I think we’re getting quite comfortable in our society limiting ideas and exposure to ideas,” Justice Thomas continued. “And maybe that’s a symptom of it. I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s good for the next generation and the people who will be learning.”
Justice Thomas argued that America benefits when its citizens are willing to listen to a diversity of opinions and engage with those whose views differ from their own. “I think that today we seem to think that everything has to be one-size-fits-all and people can’t have opinions that make us uncomfortable or ideas that make us uncomfortable or that we don’t agree with.”
He also took issue with protesters who disrespect the national anthem and flag, stating that we need to be bound together by a common culture and values. “I’m not surprised,” he said in reference to the protesters. “I mean, what binds us? What do we all have in common anymore? I think we have to think about that.”
Justice Thomas warned that Americans are beginning to accept the limiting of ideas. Do you agree?
“When I was a kid, even as we had laws that held us apart, there were things that we held dear and that we all had in common. And I think we have to — we always talk about E Pluribus Unum. What’s our Unum now? We have the Pluribus. What’s the Unum?”
Justice Thomas concluded by declaring American history, tradition, and culture as “worth defending”–even if many Americans no longer feel they are. “I think it’s a great country. Some people have decided that the Constitution isn’t worth defending, that history isn’t worth defending, that the culture and principles aren’t worth defending. And, certainly, if you are in my position, they have to be worth defending. That’s what keeps you going. That’s what energizes you.”