tv Justice Clarence Thomas Delivers Remarks at Univ. of Notre Dame CSPAN October 9, 2021 6:38am-8:00am EDT
court, and how he views it today. [applause] justice thomas: thank you. thank you. thank you, all. i should quit while i'm ahead. [laughter] if i look like i am squinting, i cannot see you well because of the light. s. before i start, i would like to thank professor munoz and the center for inviting me and making it so pleasant. i would like to thank maggie garnet, who originally invited me to visit notre dame, and i'm very fond of maggie and her
parents. before i get to my prepared remarks, some years ago justice scalia told me that i should get out on the road and fly the flag well. he tended to be more of an extrovert than i am. i am content to not get out on the road. [laughter] but when professor munoz asked me to talk a bit about the declaration, actually, when i heard he wanted me to do that, my bride and i, virginia, we were rv-ing in the mountains of north carolina and tennessee. we noticed something there when we were thinking, when i was thinking about this, and before i started preparing remarks that
the large number of flags of people who still believe in the ideal of this country in an environment when there is so much criticism, antagonism, and actually people with disdain for the same, it was interesting to be with regular people for three weeks. [laughter] one of the reasons we have been rv-ing for over two decades, we love to be a part of that. the other thing i might note about the declaration is some years ago, i decided to drive with my law clerks to gettysburg. it was after difficult terms, and you could sense them getting
a little irritated. i wanted them to understand why we do what we do. it is not about us, it is not about winning or losing at the court. it is about the entire country, and the idea of this country. our annual trip is to gettysburg for that purpose. this is pretty special to me. i do not recycle speeches, these things are quite a bit of work. also, trying to make sure that you actually talk with, not to or at your audience. so, first of all, again, let me thank maggie and professor munoz and notre dame. it has been quite some time since i have been here, and this has been very enjoyable. i would like to thank the students i have interacted with.
they stimulate thinking. students really wanted to learn without learning so much myself. i like to thank maggie for her introduction, which i think was far too generous and kind. but it only deepens my affection for her. as i said, it is an honor to be here with you all in south bend. i have been fortunate, as i eluded earlier, to have visited here a number of times, and to have a number of former clerks on the law school faculty. i have also been fortunate to have a number of your outstanding law student graduates clerked for me, and they were outstanding indeed. now i have one of your graduates as a colleague, and of course i knew justice barrett as a law
clerk for justice scalia some years ago. and as a member of the notre dame law school faculty. i pray that she has a long and fruitful tenure on the court. this university has been a stalwart, and had i seen this university when i applied to college, there is no doubt i would have been here. [laughter] in fact, i still have a few years i could go to college. [laughter] but this university has been a stalwart of american academia, and one of the universities we revered from afar in savannah, georgia during my youth. ita stated mission -- its stated mission has been unwavering, the pursuit of truth for its own sake, and its inspiration has been divine. jesus christ as the source of
wisdom, in whom all things can be brought to its completion. it should come as no surprise then that notre dame attracts and produces so many talented scholars and students. i am particularly grateful for the outstanding scholarship and graduates this university has produced. this is further demonstrated by the outstanding students in professor munoz's class that i have had a chance to interact with. from time to time justice scalia and i talked about how similar we were, yet so different. we tended to independently arrive at the same conclusion in so many cases, yet he was from an educated family in the urban northeast, while i was from an uneducated family from the deep
south. of course, the condescending media elites accuse me of being his flunky which bothered him much more than it bothered me. [laughter] i was used to bigotry. unlike him, i was used to bigotry, paternalism and condescension. he was not. after justice scalia died, i mentioned our conversation to one of his sons, paul scalia. he immediately attributed or shared judicial approach to our formation. we were both catholics, attended parochial schools, and despite the geographic separation, benefited from a common culture. it has seemed anachronistic today, when so many of our common bonds have been severed. the differences for an are much
more pronounced since they are no longer ameliorated or temporize by what we have in common. in my youth, we believed in our country's aspirational motto, e pluribus unum, despite the reality of unequal treatment. in this postmodern multicultural world, the emphasis is decidedly on the player of, and not the -- pluribus and not the unum. so much is influenced by this formation in the world of my youth. much the same can be said for the declaration itself. it was decidedly influenced by the shared culture and attitudes of the founding generation. it was not cooked up by a few men.
i am sure you are all somewhat aware of my aversion to esoteric theories that have little or remote bearing on day-to-day life, past or present. it could be the case that having grown up with people who did not have the luxury of contriving theories unrelated to daily life , i have become uncomfortable with the deductive approach to reasoning. no one in my life started by coming up with a theory first and seeing how it squared with the facts second. there was no time for that. my family, friends and neighbors subsistence required a more experiential approach. they did what worked. based on experience, not on theory. i believe this was a case for
the founding generation, as it was for me. i am a product of the state of georgia, the georgia of the 1950's and 1960's, the world where i grew up was quite different from the world of today. that is obvious. in the race obsessed world of today, one would think, or could think that i am talking about or referring solely to race, but i am not. i mean much more than that. in those days of the 1950's, there was pervasive segregation and race-based laws which were repulsive and at odds with the principles of our country. it was a world of the solid south when the democrats were routinely referred to as dixiecrat's.
despite that, there was a deep and abiding love for our country, and a firm desire to have the right and responsibilities of full citizenship, regardless how society treated us. there was never any doubt that we were equally entitled to claim the promise of america as our birthright, and equally duty-bound to honor and defend her to the best of our ability. we held these ideals first and foremost because we were raised to know that as children of god, we were inherently equal and equally responsible for our actions. in my generation, one of the central aspects of our lives was religion and religious education. the single biggest event in my early life was going to live with my grandparents in 1955.
my grandfather was a catholic convert and a very devout. as a result, my brother and i were sent to saint benedict, where i entered the second grade. between my grandparents and my nuns, i was talk pedagogically and experientially to navigate and survive the negativity of a segregated world. , without negating the good that there was. or, as my grandfather frequently said, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. to this day, i revere, admire, and love my nuns. they were devout, courageous, and principled women. the first to teach me was sister mary dolores.
i was not catholic at the time, and had only one or two memories of ever having gone to church before saint benedict. as a part of our catechism lesson, sister mary asked, why did god create you? in unison, our class of 40 kids would answer loudly, reciting the baltimore catechism, god created me to know, love, and serve him in this life, and to be happy with him in the next. through many years of school and extensive reading since then, i have yet to hear a better explanation of why we are here. it was the motivating truth of my childhood, and remains a central truth today. because i am a child of god,
there is no force on this earth that can make me any less of a man of equal dignity and equal worth. this was a truth repeatedly restated and echoed throughout the segregated world of my youth. this truth reinforced our proper roles as equal citizens, not a perversely distorted and reduced role offered us by jim crow, a role that is not unlike the reduced but apparently more powerful image of blacks that is bandied about or assigned to us today. whether deemed inferior by the crudest bigots or considered a victim by the most educated elite, being dismissed as anything other than inherently equal is still a reduction of our human worth. my nuns at saint benedict taught
me that that was a lie. and, to paraphrase, we were not to live by that live. in god's eyes, we were inherently equal, and that was that. this truth permeated our home life as well. with less of a focus on rights, and more of a focus on what was required of us as children of god. my grandparents held fast to this belief, and in god's eyes we were all equal. because of that, not only did we deserve to be treated equally, but we also were required to conduct ourselves as children of god. hence we were to live our lives according to his word. my grandparents repeatedly stressed that because of our
fallen nature, we had to earn our bread by the sweat of our brows. there was no room to doubt this, and even less for self-pity. my grandfather would let us know in no uncertain terms that there were to be no excuses, though he knew as well as anyone that many were convenient and possibly legitimate. as he often said, old man is dead, i help bury him. it was not just my grandparents who were watching us. as they saw things on judgment day, we would be held accountable for the use of our god-given talent and our opportunities. as i overheard in my grandmother's baptist church, god is a big eyed god, all seeing and all knowing.
it behooved us to walk a straight and narrow path. admittedly, much of this sounds anachronistic today. perhaps we have grown too cosmopolitan or cynical for the theology of barely literate but wise people. but my grandparents beliefs were not unique to that era. if anything, they were commonplace and virtually universal. there was little that was different about us except our catholicism, which was quite unique. as i reflect on my life, the family that my grandparents provided for my brother and me was the fountainhead of the moral guidance in our lives. the catechism of the catholic church puts it well. the family is the original sale of social life, it is the -- c
ell of social life. one can learn moral values, honor god, and make good use of freedom. family life is an initiation into the life and society. that was certainly the case in our house. during my childhood, those around us took this seriously. our neighbors and those in our daily lives taught us that god loved us equally, and that america stood for that same ideal, even though it had failed to live up to it. despite this failure, our christian duty was to love our country even as we objected to its evident shortcomings. this was more than a belief. it was a way of life. i lived in a world of un-exaggerated but pervasive patriotism.
we were to be good, productive, and loyal citizens, and that was that. this was our country, and no one could deny us that inheritance, nor were we to disinherit ourselves by rejecting our own country and our birthright of full citizenship. at the beginning of each school day, we lined up by class, and said the pledge of allegiance. when the local television station signed off at night, an event which we really got to see , there was a beautiful rendition of the national anthem , and the poem, "high flight." up up the delirious long turning blue the windswept heights with easy grace were never eagle flew and while the silent lifting mind the high on trespassed
space put out my hand and touched the face of god no matter how much others might deny a full inheritance we were not to act as though we had been disinherited and we were not to act badly because others had acted badly. i cannot say that i have always lived by this injunction. unfortunately, for too many years of my life, i lost sight of that lesson and saw it as a sign of weakness or cowardice. when dr. martin luther king jr. was assassinated in 1968, i lost faith in the teachings of my childhood and succumbed to an array of angry ideologies. indeed that was why i left the seminary in may, 1968. i let others and my emotions
persuade me that my country and my god had abandoned me. i became disoriented, disenchanted with my faith and my country, and deeply embittered. and perhaps worst of all, i let my family down. this was further exacerbated when my grandfather asked me to leave his house following my abandonment of my vocation. i was 19 years old. i was consumed by negativity, cynicism, animus, and any other negative emotion you can conjure up. sadly, the destructive disposition i exhibited seems to be celebrated today. i i left for college that fall, or i left quickly with ideologies, such as black power.
it was an era of disenchantment and d's construction -- deconstruction. -- the jaundiced eye of calero theories, or cynical theories. what had given my life meaning and a sense of belonging, that this country was my home, was jettisoned as old-fashioned and antiquated. it was considered preposterous to believe in such outmoded things. having rejected my faith, my family, and my country, i was searching for something to occupy me. it was easy and convenient to fill that void with victimhood. a black man with an ax to grind. so much of my time focused intently -- so many of us focused intently on our racial indifferences and grievances, much like today, i'm
afraid. my grandfather, a man of reality, not theory, often asked me in an exasperated tone "when you get your way and undermine this country, then what?" other times, he would simply walk away wondering out loud why he and my grandmother had made so many sacrifices for me. from time to time, he would ominously forewarn me, you just live long enough, you will see. as usual, he was right. as i matured, i began to see that the theories of my young adulthood were destructive and self-defeating. after recognizing i was adrift. i needed to regain common sense and judgment and what i had jettisoned.
i had rejected my country, my birthright as a citizen, and i had nothing to show for it. perhaps that is the ultimate estimation of nihilistic ideologies. the wholesomeness of my childhood had been replaced with an emptiness, cynicism, and despair. i was faced with the simple fact that there was no greater truth than what my nuns and grandparents had a top me. we are all children of god, and rightful heirs to our nation's legacy of equality. we had to live up to obligations of the equal citizenship to which we were entitled by birth. on the morning of april 16, 1970, after returning from a riot, i stood outside the chapel at holy cross and asked god to take hate out of my heart. i used this background to set
the stage from a later and more in depth encounter with the declaration of independence in the mid-1980's. at that time, having run agencies and seen how the federal government actually worked, i became deeply interested in the declaration of independence. i had hoped it would bring clarity to the cacophonous world in which i found myself. studying the founding, however, felt more like a return to familiar ground. the ground of my upbringing. the declaration captured what i had been taught to venerate as a child, but had cynically rejected as a young man. all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.
and so declaring the declaration of independence did not propose to have discovered anything new. it's truths were self-evident. they were beyond dispute. rewrap or you're right in the society of my youth, and in the culture. they were given. as i had rediscovered the god-given principles of the declaration and our founding, i eventually returned to the church, which had been teaching the same truths for millennia. that the declaration set forth self-evident truths with no accident. the founders quite frankly did not have the time or the mandate to reinvent the wheel or the world. between april and july 1776, the fervor for independence was palpable throughout the colonies. the colonies, their counties,
towns, even trade associations, or drafting their own declarations of independence. the late historian pauline mayor estimated there were 90 such declarations during this timeframe. though not all were specifically denoted as such. these lesser-known declarations typically began with lists of grievances against the british empire. among them were george iii's rejection of the olive branch, the use of all of tribes and german mercenaries to wage war against the colonies, and parliament's prohibitory act cutting off all trade between the colonies and england. the declarations then asserted these use of -- were bound with man's rights to a declaration,
or the first principles of nature to quote a declaration from pennsylvania. to maintain and violate our liberties, and transmit them unimpaired to prosperity as one maryland declaration put it, separation from great and was the only remaining course. when the continental congress convened in spring of 1776, the colonists did not need to be reminded of their grievances or their cause. the declarations made their points clear. rather, what they thought was leadership from a united congress. as another maryland declaration explained, national independence could be achieved only upon a close union and continental confederation. yet when thomas jefferson arrived in philadelphia on may
14, 17 76, he was torn and arguably did not want to be there. the commonwealth of virginia was about to debate its constitution. jefferson had spent weeks preparing a draft for the commonwealth's consideration. but jefferson, due to illness, had been the last of the virginia delegation to arrive in philadelphia. so he was chosen to stay behind in philadelphia while the other delegates headed back to virginia. when fellow delegate george wright left for williamsburg, jefferson talked the copy of his draft constitution in his baggage. -- from his preamble, but not much else. in philadelphia, congress test jefferson and his committee of five to prepare the first draft of the declaration of independence.
jefferson submitted the draft to congress a little more than two weeks after receiving the assignment. john adams later recounted jefferson had drafted the document and only a couple of days. jefferson was a busy man in 1776. he oversaw multiple committees regarding canadian affairs, drew up the rules and regulations for congressional debates, and participated in other matters. moreover, virginia was operating with a skeleton delegation, providing little opportunity to spread the work around. nevertheless, adam urged jefferson, as busy as he was, to pen the draft, as it would be better for a more measured southern gentleman rather than a divisive independent minded new englander to take the lead in
drafting the declaration. as time was of the essence, jefferson drew heavily from two sources, the preamble of his draft of the virginia constitution, and the recently enacted virginia declaration of rights. jefferson's preamble included many of the grievances against king george that ultimately appeared in the declaration. likewise, the virginia declaration of rights already had declared men equally free and independent, and endowed with the inherent rights, including the right to pursue and obtain happiness and safety. so ultimately, jefferson did not propound a new political theory. often, he wasn't even introducing new language. rather, he reiterated what his fellow countrymen already believed in, and what they had
already repeatedly set out in their own declarations. there was no time or appetite for a new theory of american independence. even the words in the virginia document were not original. the american founding drew upon centuries of british history. most notably, the british declaration of rights of 1689. that declaration, like the british declarations of the centuries prior, had three basic parts. one, to raise grievances against the king. another to declare the rights of englishmen. the third to fashion a government to protect those rights. the american declaration of independence adopted the very same structure. in so doing, the declaration made clear that much like the english declaration of rights, it was a constitution that set
out a foundation for government. it was a clarion call to the new americans, men, and equality who were now duty-bound to defend your new country. indeed, once published, the declaration was distributed, not only among the colonies, but also to each commander of the continental army. what followed was a revolution and the founding of a nation. the later adoption of our constitution did not consign the declaration of independence to a prefatory status. to the contrary, the declaration remained central to, and often preeminent in, the american project. as frederick douglass later put it, the declaration of independence was a raincoat to the chain of our nation's
destiny. america's fight against the most glaring contradiction, the peculiar institution of slavery, immediately put the reinbold to its greatest test. from the beginning, the founders understood slavery violated the national call to equality. james madison wrote in his notes during the constitutional convention "where slavery exists, the republican theory becomes still more fallacious." governor morris, likewise, condemned the nefarious institution as the curse of heaven on the states where it prevailed. in fact, because many of the founding fathers were so deeply ashamed of slavery, they refused to include the word slave in their original constitution. slavery now appears only once, in the 13th amendment that abolished it.
nevertheless, slavery persisted for eight decades after the ratification of the constitution. it was a rot at the core of our country's foundation. to some, that made america irredeemable. william lloyd garrison, a fiery abolitionist, called the constitution a covenant with death, and agreement with hell. he refused to vote, and called for the dissolution of the union. he would even burn copies of the constitution during his speeches. in his view, america was a slaveholding asian, and there could be no compromise with the evil of slavery. others in the era were unwilling to give up on the american project. equal citizenship was a black man's birthright, and to give up on america was to concede america's blacks never were equal citizens, as the
declaration of independence promised them. the demoralized freemen and slaves in that way, as frederick douglass argued, served only to increase the hopelessness of their bondage. the real goal, douglass made clear, was to convince americans the country was on more, but not lost. but many americans, even those who did not live in the south, or themselvesown -- or themselves owned slaves, undermined his message. take another douglass o that era, stephen a douglas. he took a non-brand of sovereignty. in his view, each territory had the right to determine whether to permit slavery within its borders. when confronted with the simple, clear, and direct language of the declaration, declaring all
men were created equal, douglas responded in 1857 arguing that the text did not mean what it said. to him, the famous opening meant only that british subjects on the continent or equal to british subjects born and residing in great britain. thus, he produced a universal truth -- he reduced a universal truth to a narrow national one. citizens were dismayed by his attack on the declaration of independence. so they invited a young lawyer to respond to douglas in springfield, illinois. that man was abraham lincoln, who became perhaps the declaration's greatest proponent and advocate. he conceded the declaration did not assert the obvious untruth that all more then actually
enjoying equality, nor yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. but man's unequal station meant only that the dream was deferred, it remains to be obtained. as lincoln explained, the declaration proposed a standard maxim of equality for free society, which should be familiar to all and revered by all. constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly obtained, constantly approximated, thereby constantly spreading and deepening in its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere. to lincoln, this promise of equality was not nearly important to the nation, it was foundational. there was no american nation
without the declaration of independence. a year after his debates in springfield, lincoln made this strikingly clear. he declared "think nothing of me, take no thought for the political faith of any man whomsoever, but come back to the truths that are in the declaration of independence. you may do anything with me you choose, if you will but heed these sacred principles. you may not only defeat me for the senate, but you may take me and put me to death." unfortunately, president lincoln would later pay that ultimate price. so too would almost 700,000 americans. decades of racial strife followed. but time and again, the declaration of independence remained our national northstar,
or as pauline mair described it, our american scripture. we did not surrender our inheritance as equal men endowed by our creator with unalienable rights. neither slavery nor jim crow defeated us. we recognize dr. martin luther king jr. declared decades ago that the magnificent words of the constitution and declaration of independence were a promissory note to which every american was to fall heir. the history of our nation is our shared struggle to live up to that promise. it is a slow, arduous battle, but we have yet to fail. today, there is a notable pessimism about the state of our country, and cynicism about our founding. there are some who would even cancel our founders. we are aware of those who served
, much like garrison, that america is a racist and irredeemable country. but there are many more of us, i think, who feel america is not so broken, as it is adrift at sea. some of you come from my generation. you remember reciting the pledge of allegiance, the fourth of july celebrations, and the shared belief our nation was destined for greatness. others of you are younger, you lived in the twilight of that life, or feel nostalgia for a world you missed, or you don't remember it at all. in all cases, we sense among us an american spirit we cannot quite capture. amidst the noise and dim telling us truth does not exist, that there is something truth, something transcendent, something solid. something that pulls us
together, rather than divides us. as i said, my wife and i this summer were inspired when we saw in the rv parks the people who hold these values and still believe as they flew probably so many flags in the rv parks. i lay no claim to the answer or to the gospel, but this i do know, for whatever it is worth, the declaration of independence has weathered every storm for 245 years. it burst a great nation, it abolished the sin of slavery, and it endeavored to address its effects. while we have failed the declaration time and again, and the ideals of the declaration time and again, i know of no time when the ideals have failed us. ultimately, the declaration indoors because it articulates truth.
it is not a grand philosophy contrived by clever academics. it came from antecedent shared values, unlike so many of -- as lincoln taught us, the declaration reflects the noble understanding of the justice of the creator to his creatures, and the enlightened belief that nothing stands with the divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on and degraded by its fellows. the declaration simply recounts what the church has taught for millennia, and what we once universally accepted as a given. all men are created, and all men are created equal. no force on earth can take away what god has given us. thus i leave you with this thought.
the declaration of independence may or may not be the american scripture. but it establishes a moral ideal that we as citizens are duty-bound to uphold and sustain. we may fall short, but our imperfection does not relieve us of our obligation. my nuns and my grandparents lived out their secret vocations -- sacred vocations in a time of stark racial animus, and it did so with pride, dignity, and honor. may we find it within ourselves to emulate them. lincoln put it best in his gettysburg address. it is rather for us to be the here, dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead, we find increased devotion to that cause for which they hear gave the
last measure of devotion, that we hear highly resolved that these dead will not die in vain. that this nation under god shall have a new birth of freedom, and government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. may we as a people and a nation indoor and prosper, may god bless you, and may god bless and preserve our great country. thank you, and go irish. [laughter] [applause] -- [applause]
>> justice thomas, thank you. as we always do, we have time for questions from the audience. with covid it is difficult, we could pass around microphones. i believe you were given a card when you entered the building. there is a way to electronically submit questions to me. if you want to write your questions, you can do so on the card and we will pass them this way and go through as many questions as time allows. you can vote on the questions. i will relay them to the justice. if you put your name on the question, i will relay your name, as well. our first question is from david
green. what, if any, threats do you foresee to the autonomy of the judicial system in the united states over the next 10 to 20 years? >> i think one of the difficulties you all are going to have to deal with is judges going beyond what article iii requires, and staying within the limitations on joses. there is always -- judges. there is always a temptation to go about how we go about due process. justice scalia railed about it. i think when we do that, we begin to venture into the legislative or executive branch, political lanes, resolving things that are better left to those branches, where people
actually have some input and opportunity to participate in the electoral process. those of us particularly in the federal judiciary with lifetime appointments are asking for trouble. i think a lot of the pressure on the nomination and select process is because of that. the court was thought to be the least dangerous branch, and we may have become the most dangerous. i think that is problematic. hence the craziness during my confirmation was one of the results of that. it was absolutely about abortion , a matter i had not thought deeply about at the time. but i think a lot of it is our own doing. i think the threats, we have lost the capacity, even as
leaders, to not allow others to manipulate our institutions when we don't get the outcomes we like. for example, when president roosevelt threatened to pack the court, there is enough sense of what the court meant and what separation of powers meant third to criticize him. today, you see almost no criticism, or very little, when you have those kinds of conversations. i think part of it is the judge's own joint -- own doing. >> you talked a little bit about your own life. but the declaration, there are a few personal questions. please answer if you will, don't if you want. you left the catholic church when you were in the seminary -- maybe where you are right after the seminary -- what brought you back to the church?
>> i will be glib a little bit. growing up -- i think you do things at 19 that 25 years later, you undo. i will simply repeat what i said in the class, if i had a friend like maggie garnet, i probably more than likely would not have left the church. i just think that when you are 19 and you are upset and angry, you do things that are not the best thing to do. and my grandfather understood that, but at 19, i did not. like i've said to my law clerks, i ran away from the church in
i tell them i ran out of options. [laughter] it was lonely way out. i am glad i did. i just regret that i ever left. >> this questions from a student. if you could go back in time would you be a federalist or anti-federalist? [laughter] justice thomas: that is really interesting. [laughter] i don't know. those were different times. i would probably be closer to the antifederalists. [applause] i am not against the union.
but i think there are limitations. i cannot say i was totally with jefferson. i think we see with the antifederalists were concerned about. the expansion of the commerce clause. the effort to expand the power of the national government and the reach of the court through the doctrines of incorporation and other theories. the other branches going into areas that are somewhat attenuated from the limited powers they were supposed to have. the enumerated powers. you begin to see in retrospect. i was reading one of the letters written by an appeals court judge in virginia criticizing an
opinion. what was ironic about it was some of the points he was making and criticizing the decision, pointing out how that would mean that the government would expand into all of these areas, it has already expanded into those areas. those were like his list of terrible's. now it is our list of realities. i think you can object. i will not be too harsh in my criticisms. they did wind up creating a country. it is very flawed, like every human institution. i have been on the court for 30 years. but i will defend it. it works. it works like a car with three wheels, but it still works. [laughter]
somehow you kind of hobble along. you recognize its imperfections. i think we should be careful about destroying our institutions because they do not give us what we want when we want it. we should be really careful. after you have done that, now what? what is your next step? i cannot be too forceful in my criticism of the federalists. >> good. [laughter] this question was submitted anonymously. how often do oral arguments actually change or not -- mind? justice thomas: never. [laughter] it is like when i used to watch
basketball a lot, they would talk about the big and in the paint. you do your work early and then it is over. you can try to block him three feet from the basket. good luck with that. the real work is in the briefs. the real work is what is in the written product. occasionally, we had one guy many years ago when chief justice rehnquist was there, it was an afternoon case. we all kind of agreed this is an easy one. the guy gets up there and says i am submitting on the brief. he opened his mouth and lost it. reversed, 9-0. [laughter] that is the biggest swing i have
seen. sometimes you just shut up and sit down. >> has there been times in your career when the legal questions you must resolve conflict with your catholic faith? justice thomas: not really. i would go and do something else. i said that early on. i still believe that. i have lived up to my oath. there are some things that conflict very strongly with my personal opinion, my policy preferences. those were very hard, particularly early on. i don't do a lot of handwringing in my opinions and tell people i
am really sad. you do your job you go cry alone. [laughter] [applause] there have been some that broke my heart. that were really hard. particularly early, you sit with the more seasoned members of the court and you explain to them what is wrong. when i first became a judge in 1990, my colleague sat down with me. one of the things that is really interesting is no judge ever tells you how to do your job that only people who tell you how to do your job or people who have never been judges. he said i will give you a little
bit of unsolicited vice. before you sit on a case, ask yourself this question -- what is your role in this case is a judge? not as a citizen or a catholic. what is your role in this case as a judge? there are things that you as a citizen would want to come out a different way. that is what i'm trying to do. i have four law clerks. they are very bright like your students. i tell them to watch me. that is something my grandfather always told me.
i tell my clerks that you watch me for a full year, my job is that you leave here with clean hands, clean hearts, and clear consciences. we will never do anything that is improper. every clerk works on every case. if you see something, your job is to let me know. i don't think a single clerk will ever tell you we have done anything other than our jobs. >> what is the most significant misconception you think the american public holds about the court or its role in democracy? justice thomas: i could be a long list. [laughter] i don't blame them.
i have a 30-year-old bus. i was at a truck stop. you like to act like you are one of the big truckers. you put on your d so gloves and kick the tires. i still can't figure out what that does. you take on your fuel and you go in pay. at least it is not a boat or a plane. i passed a driver and he looked at me and said, are you that judge? [laughter]
that literally was one of my favorite moments. he said i heard you were a big rig man like me but i didn't think i would ever meet you. i really started taking the tires. [laughter] i forget what you asked me. was that an answer? i think they think we make policy. i think the media makes it sound as though you were just always going right to your personal preferences. they think you are antiabortion or something personally.
they think you become like a politician. that is a problem. i will give you an example. i know there is a football game this weekend. nebraska is playing oklahoma. [laughter] you have one as well? at any rate, let's take this weekend. if a referee makes a call that favors notre dame and notre dame wins, people will say that is a fine referee. but if the referee makes the very same call and it works against notre dame, this guy can't even see. anybody could have seen that.
that is because we are fans. we are not acting as judges. we want a particular outcome. that colors what we think the level of the quality of the refereeing was. the guy should give it up. that is not what you can do when looking at cases. read any article about one of the big cases and that is exactly what you have. if the outcome is what i want it to be, excellent work. if it is against what i am for, it is dredd scott all over again. i think that is wrong. if you go back and look at some of the new york times articles in the 30's and 40's on supreme court cases, the views are
excellent. they summarize the case, they talk about the arguments, there may be a short paragraph on the implication. but that side-by-side with what you would get today. i think it is problematic. that encourages these preconceptions about the court. >> this question might be related. it is from one of our student fellows. the tenant average and was in -- of originalism claims that the constitution should not be amended and not revised by the courts. what are your thoughts on judicial activism? justice thomas: how many times has the constitution been amended? it is not unattainable.
the same climate that would do things to inspire leadership. i don't think it is unattainable. it is changing the age of the voting age. that is obtainable. it was intended to be difficult so you are not amending it every few minutes. it is difficult. but not impossible. or we would not have amendments. even if that were the case, you lose your constitution if judges can amended. you accept amendments by nine members of the supreme court. that is really outside the process. it is legitimate.
that is the could admit criticism of justice scalia. i will give you example, we have no idea half the time of what is going on in popular culture. i have no idea. people start talking about rap artists. i have no idea who they are. i don't listen to that kind of music. it is the public. you have heard the term marble palace. this is as close to it as you will get. i go in the basement and i go up to my office. i get in the car and a,. we do not have town hall meetings, we do not going meet with constituents, we do not take calls, we do not visit the local areas to speak with our
constituents. we do not take the pulse of the community. we are supposed to be outside of that. you do not want us making those decisions. >> this next question relates to what you just said. think it would be better if more regular americans read supreme court decisions and recognized the justices? should justices meet regular people by traveling through flyover country? justice thomas: i love flyover country. we have done 42 states. i love flyover country. my wife said north dakota looks fine to me. we have been in walmart parking lots, rv parks, virtually all of the 42 states that we have been to.
you go to parks that have trailers and pop-ups and people camping. you meet them. it is not really a problem until they recognize you. that messes everything up. that is the world i am from. i love that world. it is really interesting when you listen to them about our country. that is why i mentioned the flags in tennessee and north carolina in the mountain. those people have a different perspective. it is very interesting to see how they react to these different things. that leads me to the type of clerks i hire. i think regular people have been disenfranchised. we write these opinions that are almost right cured ludvig's --
hieroglyphics. levels of generality. a little latin sprinkle in. what we try to do, and this is editing. i tell my clerks that it is not genius to put a two dollar idea in a $20 setting. without losing any of the meeting. the audience we write for our our fellow citizens, not the low reviews, not just the legal community. we were at gettysburg one year. a guy who was a bit overweight, i am not against overweight people, he runs up the hill and he is out of breath.
it was on an opinion on the federal maritime commission. he said i want you to sign this. i want to thank you. i said thank you. it really many feel-good. a regular citizen who is not a lawyer. i say why are you reading this opinion? why do you want me to sign it? he said he looked at gettysburg. that is what this was all about. we fought the civil war over the federal maritime commission. [laughter] that is all to make the point that i really like the fact when regular people find the work accessible. that is what we should do. i hire clerks from regular
backgrounds. i wound up having so many clerks from that region. none of them even knew each other. they come from very regular backgrounds. they go to the university of south carolina, i'm trying to think where all these kids come from. say, and go so fast. the university of minnesota. every single one went to a state school. they went on scholarship. then they go on to other schools. that is what i like. they have the ability and the capacity to write in normal english and think with common sense and judgment. that is really important to me. >> a couple more.
any words of wisdom for aspiring law students? wanting to follow the path of sanctity? justice thomas: wow. i'm a total failure. [laughter] i think for me, eight to say this, my favorite prayer is the litany of humility. i have it on my wall in my office. i am a big believer in saying i cannot. having been humbled, i have every reason to be humble. i think you start with that. being true and honest with yourself.
what you know in what you don't know. do not lose sight. we have gotten to a point in this society where we are really good at finding something that separates us from others. when i was the only black kid in my seminary in the mid-1960's, the only black kid in a white school, i did not know of any others, every time i walked into a room i had to look for something i had in common. that is the way we grew up. what do we have in common with the other person? now we seem like we keep dividing and subdividing into categories and subcategories of differences and emphasizing those differences. i think you look for the good in people. even if others around you do not
do things in the proper way. i think you are honest with yourself about learning. i wish i had a friend in college like maggie garnett. you ask yourself, do i help make my friends better or worse? that is a hard one. it puts a load on you. i don't know, i struggle. i go to mass and try to do things. try to do the right thing. it starts with humility. i truly believe that. >> will you come back? justice thomas: yeah, well.
[applause] i will. i have to tell you, i spend very little time on university campuses, and that is probably not good. when i was in college, the university was where you exchanged ideas. like being here with one minor outburst, it is like what being here today is what universities were. you thought about things and debated things and learn to engage and how to disagree without being a jerk. you learn how to grow. i don't know whether or not that is totally the case. i have had that positive kind of experience here every time i have been here.
a lot of it were those kids in your class. the brightness. i don't know what their views are. that is their business. what i am interested in is in exchanging these ideas. letting them think and form their own opinions. that is what i thought the university was supposed to do with all of us. the answer is yes. plus my kids are here. i have a lot of my clerks ear. i do have to come back. [applause] if i had seen notre dame, i would've signed everything i needed to sign before i left campus. maybe in january i will have a different opinion.
i was sold the first time i drove my bus on this campus. i parked at the police station. we went to the grotto and that did it for me. then going to the chapel. that pretty much did it for me. >> last question, and domestics will not. what is the score of saturday's game? justice thomas: this is going to sound horrible. that will be a tough game. i think you will win by at least seven. but i think it will be a tough game. purdue is good offensively. i don't watch as much college football as i used to. i watch a lot of volleyball. you all have a decent volleyball team.
but nebraska is where we lost two games and that has been very bad. if you have not been to women's volleyball, you are missing a treat. it is unbelievable. it is fast, athletic, really a good game. and i know nothing about volleyball but i like it. i do want to say goodbye. i want to thank you all. thank you for being the way i would expect notre dame students, faculty, and friends to be. in the way it used to be in all of the universities. i said positive things about notre dame. you are exhibit a as to why that is true. thank you all very much. [applause]