Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ utmost concern as a judge is to honor the oath he took to uphold the U.S. Constitution, he said during a lecture at Southern Methodist University on Wednesday night.
As part of the SMU Tate Lecture Series, which brings distinguished speakers from various fields to the school’s campus, Thomas spoke of his experience with the Supreme Court.
“You realize that you work for something that is much larger than you are,” he said. “(It’s) something that is so depended on by your fellow citizens.”
Thomas also spoke of the values he strives to uphold as a judge and the responsibility involved in his work.
“It matters that you do this right,” Thomas said. “It matters that you show fidelity to (the Constitution).”
Thomas said he thinks prior court decisions should never be accepted as permanent in judicial precedents.
“I guess I’ve already been a part of a time when we did say that and those were the exact same arguments for maintaining segregation,” Thomas said. “I don’t think time makes wrong right.”
As part of the governing body with the power to overturn or uphold prior judgments, Thomas said he respects the gravity of that power and values his role.
“(With rulings) that’s all – there’s nobody who can correct it if we get it wrong,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he hopes listeners take away from his visit a simple analogy about the inner workings of Supreme Court precedents.
He said court opinions were like a long train where cars represent cases. By adding precedents the courts create a long train and automatically attach new cars to the end, he said.
“We don’t investigate why all of the prior cars are there,” Thomas said. We examine each car then get to engine – what if nobody’s there? And it’s an orangutan?”