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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Justice Clarence Thomas calls criticism of him ‘nastiness’ and ‘lies’

By Justin Jouvenal, Tobi Raji and Ann E. Marimow Washington Post

POINT CLEAR, ALA. – After facing harsh questions about his judicial decisions and accepting lavish gifts from a billionaire, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas forcefully pushed back on his critics Friday – saying he and his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, have endured “nastiness” and “lies.”

Thomas targeted the maelstrom he has faced in Washington, offering some of his most extensive comments since news broke last year of travel and real estate deals paid for by Republican donor Harlan Crow, and since he has faced calls to recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election because of his wife’s involvement with efforts to block Joe Biden’s victory.

“What you are going to find, especially in Washington, is that people are going to pride themselves on being awful,” Thomas said during the hourlong conversation with U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a former clerk of his, at a judicial conference on the Gulf Coast, hundreds of miles from the nation’s capital. “It’s a hideous place.”

The justice went on to say he maintains his positivity in work and life despite the tribulations. Still, he told his audience that he wished he had remained a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and that he “had no interest in public life” but felt called to it by God. He did not address any recent decisions by the court.

Thomas’ remarks were markedly different in tone to an earlier public appearance Friday by Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who said consistency, transparency and mutual respect are the keys to improving public trust in the judiciary at a time when support for the Supreme Court has dropped.

In a conversation in Austin with Chief Judge Priscilla Richman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, Kavanaugh acknowledged the polarization in the country over political and legal issues, especially since the Supreme Court in 2022 overturned the legal right to an abortion established decades earlier by Roe v. Wade.

He said judges and Supreme Court justices must clearly explain their interpretation of the law and apply those legal principles in a uniform fashion. “Individual decisions don’t have to be popular. … The losing party has to respect the decision,” Kavanaugh said at the 5th Circuit Judicial Conference.

“Consistency builds respect,” he continued. “It’s showing up every day in the courtroom and trying to be respectful to the parties, to write your opinion in a way that’s clear and understandable, to get out when you’re speaking and try to explain, to the bar, the judicial process, to try to be transparent and to be impartial as a judge.”

The two talks were part of a flurry of public appearances by members of the high court, which finished oral arguments for this term in late April and now is working on decisions for all the cases in which it has not yet ruled. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. will give the commencement address at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio on Saturday.

The court is poised to hand down numerous rulings on contentious issues before the current term ends in late June or early July. They include access to the abortion pill mifepristone, whether Donald Trump is immune from prosecution for election interference and the scope of the powers of federal agencies.

Kavanaugh’s hour-long question-and-answer session with Richman also touched on the high court’s emergency docket, which in recent years has become a hotbed for highly consequential cases such as Texas’ immigration law – known as S.B. 4 – that expands the state’s role in enforcing border security.

In March, with the legal challenge to the statute’s constitutionality still pending, the Supreme Court declined to take emergency action to keep the law from taking effect. Hours later, the 5th Circuit issued an order blocking its enforcement while the appeal continues.

Kavanaugh said Friday that he understands that the court’s caseload has an effect on American life, far beyond academic and legal circles. Thomas also said the court will have to address the emergency docket in his remarks.

“Real lives are being affected. Real people are being hurt or helped. You can’t lose sight of that,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s polarized. I get it. I’m part of the system. I understand. I see it.”

The justices’ public appearances come at a challenging moment for the court, amid tepid approval ratings, controversies over ethics and lavish gifts to justices.

A Marquette University Law School poll from February found 40% of respondents approved of the work the Supreme Court is doing, while 60% disapprove. Gallup’s ongoing opinion surveys show the court’s ratings by the public remain mired at near-record lows.

The spotlight on Thomas has been particularly glaring over his relationship with Crow. In a previous statement, an attorney for Thomas has said he is “confident there has been no willful ethics transgression, and any prior reporting errors were strictly inadvertent.”

In an interview Wednesday, Vice President Harris told the New York Times she was alarmed by the current court and Thomas in particular.

“This court has shown itself to be an activist court,” Harris said. “I worry about fundamental freedoms across the board.”

In one of his last major speeches, shortly after a draft of the decision overturning Roe was leaked to the media, Thomas lamented the damage the incident caused to the court and likened it to infidelity. He offered a similar refrain Friday, waxing nostalgic about his early days as a justice. He has served on the high court since 1991.

“It would be inconceivable that anyone would leak in the court or do anything to intentionally harm one another,” Thomas said of that period on the court.

Kavanaugh did not address the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which led to the overturning of Roe. Instead, he cited the 5-4 decision in Texas v. Johnson in 1989, which upheld flag-burning as speech protected by the First Amendment, in acknowledging that the high court sometimes issues unpopular decisions. ‘

After the leak of the Dobbs draft, a man with a gun and a knife was detained by police near Kavanaugh’s Maryland home and charged with attempted murder. Nicholas John Roske of Simi Valley, California, was upset by the leaked draft as well as the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, according to an affidavit.

Kavanaugh called the heightened security measures that are now in place for the justices “night and day” from when he clerked for then-Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the early 1990s.

“It’s a huge adjustment for your family,” Kavanaugh said. Referring to his two teenage daughters, he added: “You pray that there’s not a long-term impact on them.”

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor and conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett have been making joint appearances in recent months, showing a more congenial side to relations between justices despite the deep ideological divisions on the bench.

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Raji reported from Austin. Marimow reported from Washington.