Justice Clarence Thomas, celebrating 25 years on the bench at an event at the conservative Heritage Foundation, opened up Wednesday night about the current “broken” culture in Washington, took a slight shot at Obamacare and told a story about that time he and his wife fled the city in their RV and ran into a curious trucker at a gas station.
“This city is broken in some ways,” Thomas said when asked in general about the judicial confirmation process that has become increasingly bitter over the last few years.
Thomas didn’t directly refer to the current standoff concerning the nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the open ninth seat on the Supreme Court, but he lamented a culture where people “aren’t thinking things through.”
“We have decided rather than confront disagreements and the differences of opinion, we will simply annihilate the person who disagrees,” he said.
Thomas didn’t speak about his own contentious confirmation battle, which featured allegations of sexual harassment made against him by Anita Hill, or his own legacy.
“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking back…. I’m not a navel gazer,” he said.
Obamacare and the Second Amendment
He spoke broadly about the court and mentioned in passing the challenge to the Affordable Care Act — taking a dig at the name.
“It seems like a misnomer considering all the things that are going on,” he said, most likely referring to recent news reports about increasing costs associated with the program.
Thomas voted against the law when it was before the court.
About the Second Amendment, Thomas said that some “want to pretend it doesn’t exist.”
The comment referenced his frustration that the court hasn’t stepped in to further clarify Justice Antonin Scalia’s landmark opinion, District of Columbia v. Heller. Many gun rights supporters believe the lower courts are thumbing their nose at the Supreme Court’s opinion and want the justices to take up another Second Amendment case.
He spoke of his fondness of Scalia even though the two came from very different backgrounds. Scalia loved the opera but Thomas said to laughter, “I like opera, I just don’t want to be around the people who like opera.”
And when Scalia tried to get him to go hunting Thomas quipped, “No good comes from being in the woods.”
The audience was comprised of Thomas’ wife, Virginia, former clerks and family friends, but also some who rarely get to see the 68-year-old justice’s’ personality. He spoke about the trips he and his wife take in their RV every summer to escape Washington. In the days following Bush v. Gore, the contentious Supreme Court decision that decided the 2000 election in favor of George W. Bush, Thomas told a story how he and his wife had been scheduled to take the 40-foot coach to Florida.
At one point he found himself refueling the large vehicle in Georgia and he was approached by a trucker. “Anybody ever tell you that you look like Clarence Thomas?” the man asked. As the audience erupted into laughter, no one laughed as hard as the justice. He spoke about how much the trips across the country meant to him — showing him parts of the country he would have missed in an airplane trip.
“Most of all you see the citizens of this country,” Thomas said. “An RV park is very democratic with a small d.– it is some of everybody.”