Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Clarence Thomas At Chapman

My brother scored me a seat at the Clarance Thomas event at Chapman University yesterday.

Sandefur has a good summary of some of the highlights, including the rather random moment when, moments after he was introduced, a woman in the audience burst into song.

Thomas took one question from the small group I was with--a question about whether the Declaration of Independence should be considered when reading the Constitution (He said, "Wow, that's like asking, 'Explain the universe and give three examples'"). He did not, however, get my question, which was about the one point in his book he never clearly explained. I guess I will go to my grave without ever knowing how to play "Send Back."

Sandefur picked a lot of my favorite moments, but there's one that made a large impression on me, especially when my brother expanded on a further answer he'd heard Thomas give before.

Thomas is known for not asking a lot of questions from the bench. While some of his associates tend to try to trip up the lawyers presenting before the Court, Thomas is content to let them present their cases. He was asked about it here, and said, more or less, "This isn't Perry Mason. Everything is in the briefs. These cases have been through dozens of courts, and there's not really going to be a 'gotcha' moment." In other words, the grandstanding didn't really serve a purpose.

But what my brother shared with me was that on another occasion, Thomas had said something along these lines: "When I go home to Savannah, and I talk to people whose cases came to my court, I want them to be able to say, 'My case was heard. I had my chance, and they heard me out.'"

In other words, it's more important to him, as judge of the highest court in the land, to make sure that everyone gets to feel they had their day in court than to feel that everybody knows at any given moment how much smarter than them Clarance Thomas is.

That's exactly the attitude I would hope every judge in this nation has.

Enough respect for those before them to allow them to be heard, and enough integrity to do the right thing when it comes time to render a verdict.

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