In speaking to a group of students at the University of Alabama, the Republican appointed Justice Clarence Thomas had a few things to say about the diversity of the Court:
A native of Georgia and the only current justice from the South, Thomas said the court is too dominated by Ivy League lawyers and lacks regional diversity. People constantly worry about racial, gender and ethnic diversity, he said, and home states matter, too.
“My goal is to have a court that is fair, and I think it’s fair when we are fair in selecting people from all parts of the country, from all walks of life,” Thomas said.
Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with being a proponent of more academic diversity on the court, except maybe when you’re part of the problem.
That’s right, Thomas went to Yale Law School, a blue-blooded Ivy if there ever was one, making his statements bemoaning a lack of justices from different “walks of life,” deeply ironic. That’s not even mentioning that Thomas is also now one of six Catholic justices on the Court — a ratio that far outstrips Catholic representation in the general population.
Thomas also told students that the Court “didn’t need oral arguments” to reach their opinions:
Thomas – who hasn’t asked a lawyer a question during arguments in nearly four years – said he and the other eight justices virtually always know where they stand on a case by reading legal briefs before oral arguments. . .
Thomas scoffed at the idea that the justices try to use questions to influence the opinions of fellow members of the court.
“All nine of us are in the same building,” he said. “If we want to sway each other we know where we are. We don’t need oral arguments to do that. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Now, this, actually, isn’t the craziest idea. By the time these cases reach the Supreme Court, the issue the Justices are deciding on is incredibly narrow. Both sides’ arguments are full represented in documents to the Court. So, Thomas’ characterization of them as a vestigial organ of the legal process isn’t inaccurate or foolhardy. But if we allow that oral arguments don’t really exist solely to help the Justices make up their minds on cases, we can at least acknowledge their importance historically and civically.