Conversations With a Supreme Court Justice

Conversations with a Supreme Court Justice  

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

In 2005 I was attending a summer retreat in the redwoods of California. I learned that the speaker that day was none other than Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, so made sure I got to sit (on the grass) as close to him as possible

We gathered under the trees near a small stream when he walked out in front of us with a large, friendly smile. Insisting we call him "Clarence," he talked about the upcoming questioning and grilling of a new Supreme Court nominee named John Roberts, and how the left was already going after him in regards to abortion issues as it was "murder." He told us that "John will be in for a rough ride" once the questioning begins. 

At the conclusion of his talk, many people gathered around the famous Justice to ask brief questions. He willingly obliged. Finally I was next in line, and I was the last person waiting for him. The Justice smiled, shook my hand and said,

"Please just call me Clarence, and what is your name, sir? And (he laughed), as everyone knows what I do, please tell me what you do."

Since I was the last person there we had more time to talk. Plus, a restful log was nearby so we availed ourselves of it and sat down. I told him I played ragtime and traveled around doing as such. "Clarence" said that he loved ragtime and heard it in his small hometown of Pin Point, Georgia when he was young. He spoke of dance halls and chickens running through the middle of town. Finally I asked if I could ask him two questions. He agreed. 

Question 1:

"Clarence," I said, "let's pretend we see a woman walk out of the woods over there and she murders her 12-year old kid right in front of us. She chokes him until he turns blue, then drops him on the ground. She'll be arrested, hauled off to Sacramento, and tried for murder. She'll be found guilty and sentenced to possibly life in prison, confinement in a mental institution, or put into the gas chamber at San Quentin. Is this correct?"

"It is correct," he answered. I continued:

"Now let's pretend that we're sitting in Michigan where I live and the same thing happens: she kills her kid over there. This time the court will find her guilty and sentence her to life in prison or the mental institution, but they can't sentence her to death because Michigan doesn't have a death penalty. The reason for this is that the crime of murder is a state offense, not a federal offense. And with that in mind...

"There should be a referee at the John Roberts hearings, and whenever someone brings up the abortion issue the referee should slam down a gavel and say...

"This question is not allowed because murder is a state law, not a federal or Constitutional law. This question is outside of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Next question, please."

Clarence sat there and looked at me for a moment. Then, as if coming to a realization, he said,

"You're right."

I asked if I could continue to Question two. He said, 

"Please do."

I continued:

"Now let's pretend a different woman walks out of the woods and sits down on that log over there. You and I can see that she's greatly distressed, and her problem is that she's become pregnant last week from someone other than her husband. She's confused and doesn't know what to do in regards to getting an abortion or not. Here's the question: 

"Do I have the right to go over there and tell her what to do?"

Clarence immediately told me I had no right to do that. So I asked him,

"Do you?"

Justice Thomas sat there and just stared at me for a moment, as if coming to a realization for the first time. Finally he said,

"No, I don't."

Many years later: 

Seventeen years later, when the Roe vs Wade (abortion) case came in front of the Supreme Court, I thought of "Clarence" and the conversation we'd had so many years ago. Then I saw the tie-breaking vote coming down to the man whom I'd spoken with on a log out in the redwoods of California. I remembered the great humility and the honesty I felt coming from him. I also knew which way he was going to vote. And...

He did. He voted down Roe vs Wade.

Pandemonium erupted. Various political groups and "rights" groups went into rages across the country and around the world, but Clarence remained with the truth, not popular opinion. He chose the Laws of the Constitution and the States Laws over the screaming mob. Today I (and he) can only wish that the nay-sayers knew what great respect he has for women's rights, and concern over the illegality of letting a group of government officials such as congress ever interfere with the rights that every woman has over her own body.