Clarence Thomas Personhood and Politics Essay

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Though six other Justices joined in overturning Staples' conviction, it was Justice Thomas who wrote the majority opinion, and he makes it clear that anything not explicitly allowed or made illegal by the law -- either in the Government's actions or in the actions of individual citizens -- is left to individual (or local, it is implied) discretion (Oyez 2009).

How Do You Get to the Supreme Court? Restraint, Restraint, Restraint

In keeping with his generally conservative politics, Justice Thomas is also an advocate of judicial restraint. The Staples case demonstrates this quite clearly, as do other of his published rulings. In Archer et ux v. Warner (2002), Justice Thomas dissented form the majority opinion, which used what was considered the intent of a bankruptcy exemption for fraud to overturn the decisions of lower courts and demand that the Warners pay the Archers a previously agreed-upon settlement (Oyez 2009). In his dissent, Justice Thomas makes it very clear that he believes the law needs to speak explicitly for itself, and the he considered the majority opinion of the Court as a form of activism, whereby laws were extended and amplified but the decision, rather than rigidly upheld (Oyez 2009).

Strict Construction

This view is also quite evident when it comes to Justice Thomas' interpretation of the Constitution, as is the Supreme Court's primary duty in the schema of the judicial system. Again, his dissenting opinion in a particular case, Jones v. Flowers (2005), makes this quite clear. Having repeatedly mailed property tax bills and notices to a home that Jones owned but no longer occupied, his home was eventually sold to the state of Arkansas (in the person of Flowers). The Court ruled that the state had not fulfilled its duties under the Fourteenth Amendment, but that it should have made extra effort in this regard. Again, Justice Thomas felt that any body of law, especially the Constitution, should be read as narrowly and explicitly as possible, and that Arkansas had therefore met its responsibilities (Oyez 2009).

Influence of Justice Thomas' Opinions

Because of his extremely conservative and strict constructionist views regarding judicial action and interpretation, it is difficult to single out any of Justice Thomas' opinions as singularly important. He is often either in the vast majority or the unanimity of the Court's opinion, or in a very small minority (often a minority of one). There are few of his rulings, therefore, that have led to large changes in policy and could be considered especially significant as far as Court opinions go, and his determined reticence during oral arguments before the Court is nearly a thing of legend (Klonick 2009). It is the reserve and restraint of Justice Thomas' opinions that make them significant, and that demonstrate his significance as a Justice, and this quite explicitly does not lead to opinions that stand out or create large amounts of change in policy or law.


Justice Clarence Thomas is, of course, a highly significant member of the Supreme Court. As one of the most -- if not the most -- conservative Justices currently sitting, his opinions have been used with great regularity on issues that the Court agrees require a strict and certain application of the law and the Constitution. Despite the controversy surrounding his confirmation and possible political quibbles, Justice Thomas has shown himself to be a man truly dedicated to his principles, and he applies them evenly in deciding cases. This independence and objectivity are essential qualities in a Supreme Court Justice.


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Gerber, S. (1999). First principles: The jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas. New York: New York University Press.

Klonick, K. (2009). "Clarence Thomas reaches new low in self-awareness." Accessed 26 October 2009.

Overby, L; Henschen, B.; Walsh, M. & Strauss, J. (1992). "Courting constituents? An analysis of the Senate confirmation vote on Justice Clarence Thomas." American political science review, 86(4), pp. 997-1003.

Oyez. (2009). "Clarence Thomas: Opinions."

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