Justice Clarence Thomas gave a frank assessment Wednesday of how he feels about the political standoff over Supreme Court confirmations ― a subject that has gripped Washington since the death of his close friend Justice Antonin Scalia.
But Thomas’ outlook was grim, even as he offered pointed remarks that could be read as a veiled rebuke of Republicans who seem intent on hamstringing an entire branch of the federal government.
“This city is broken in some ways,” he told a group of supporters at the Heritage Foundation, which hosted a conversation with the justice on the occasion of his 25 years of service on the nation’s highest court.
The 68-year-old justice did not directly address the Garland gridlock, which is breaking historical records since Senate Republicans vowed in February to not grant any hearings to any of Obama’s nominees.
But echoing remarks last week by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, he said that his work at the nation’s high court struck a different tone ― providing him an opportunity to talk and reason and disagree with his colleagues and still do the work he’s been called to do.
“I think that we have decided that rather than confronting the disagreements and the differences of opinion, we’ll just simply annihilate the person who disagrees with me,” Thomas said, in an apparent nod to dysfunction elsewhere in Washington. “I don’t think that’s going to work. I don’t think that’s going to work in a republic or in a civil society.”
His remarks came just as Republicans are signaling that they might be willing to go to war over future Supreme Court nominees with Hillary Clinton, who is leading in the polls and is likely to make a number of appointments if elected president.
One of the senators floating an even longer blockade was Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a fan of Thomas’ who on Wednesday indicated he might be open to leaving the high court understaffed for a while longer.
Might Thomas agree with further obstruction?
“At some point, we have got to recognize that we’re destroying our institutions and we’re undermining our institutions. Justice Clarence Thomas
“At some point,” the justice said in the same segment, “we have got to recognize that we’re destroying our institutions and we’re undermining our institutions. And we’re going to destroy them. The day is going to come, if it’s not already here, that we’ll need the institutions and the integrity of the institutions.”
Since Scalia’s death, the Supreme Court has done its part to keep its distance from the political fray ― going about its daily work of hearing cases, issuing rulings and reaching compromise whenever possible to avoid 4-to-4 splits.
That hasn’t always been possible, and sometimes the decision-making does reflect sharp differences among the justices. But Thomas said the court is doing its part to “earn” the confidence of the public by upholding the oath they once made.
“You took an oath to show fidelity to the Constitution, you live up to it,” he said. “You took an oath to judge people impartially, you live up to it. Yeah, in this city, this doesn’t go for much. You take heat for it or whatever. But that’s part of the job. You’re supposed to be beaten for it. You’re supposed to do your job.”