U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas holds two distinct records, he is the most senior member of the high court and the second Black justice behind Thurgood Marshall. On Friday, Thomas spoke at an event in Salt Lake City, Utah, which was hosted by the foundation of former GOP U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch. 

During his remarks, Thomas said, “You can cavalierly talk about packing or stacking the court. You can cavalierly talk about doing this or doing that. At some point the institution is going to be compromised…I’m afraid, particularly in this world of cancel culture attack, I don’t know where you’re going to learn to engage as we did when I grew up…If you don’t learn at that level in high school, in grammar school, in your neighborhood, or in civic organizations, then how do you have it when you’re making decisions in government, in the legislature, or in the courts?” 

The timing of Thomas’ comments is worth noting as they occurred only a couple of months after President Biden’s commission that he formed “to study potential reforms to the U.S. Supreme Court voted unanimously in December to approve a final report that takes ‘no position’ on Court-packing;” however, the almost 300-page report did not provide any recommendations. The report’s summary stated, “Given the size and nature of the Commission and the complexity of the issues addressed, individual members of the Commission would have written the Report with different emphases and approaches…But the Commission submits this Report today in the belief that it represents a fair and constructive treatment of the complex and often highly controversial issues it was charged with examining…no serious person, in either major political party, suggests court packing as a means of overturning disliked Supreme Court decisions, whether the decision in question is Roe v. Wade or Citizens United…Scholars could say, until very recently, that even as compared to other court reform efforts, ‘court-packing’ is especially out of bounds…This is part of the convention of judicial independence… [the commission] takes no position on the validity or strength of these claims.” 

Thomas pontificating on cancel culture seems particularly sardonic, given the fact that recently the term has been weaponized by the Republican party. As a Vox article aptly described—it “feels inescapable…[t]he phrase is all over the news, tossed around in casual social media conversation…It sometimes seems all-encompassing, as if all forms of contemporary discourse must now lead, exhaustingly and endlessly, either to an attempt to ‘cancel’ anyone whose opinions cause controversy or to accusations of cancel culture in action, however unwarranted.” 

In addition to his commentary on cancel culture, Thomas “also criticized the media for creating false narratives on public figures like himself [and] the late Justice Antonin Scalia.” Thomas reflected on his own confirmation process in 1991, where “[d]uring congressional hearings, lawmakers grilled Thomas about sexual allegations from Anita Hill, a former employee, leading him to call the experience a ‘high tech lynching.’”

Presently, Congress is preparing for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings, and if confirmed Jackson will become the first Black woman Supreme Court Justice.  

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