GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Questioning the Supreme Court and other government branches needs to stay within the range of fair criticism or “run the risk in our society of undermining institutions that we need to preserve our liberties,” Justice Clarence Thomas said Thursday.
Justice Thomas also told an audience at the University of Florida law school that some comments he hears about the court “border on being irresponsible.”
He didn’t speak specifically about the court’s recent decision on campaign financing or mention President Barack Obama. But Justice Thomas’s comments come a week after Obama took the rare step of openly criticizing the decision during his State of the Union speech.
Justice Thomas supported the 5-4 ruling that allows companies and unions to spend freely on ads that promote or target candidates by name.
Justice Thomas said the court should be questioned but is bothered by some rhetoric with “the idea of assigning ulterior motives to opinions that people don’t agree with, rather than saying simply that the court doesn’t agree with my argument.”
“There are different approaches, because we start with different assumptions. Or we look at things differently,” he said.
“And I think law school should encourage you that these differences are acceptable in our legal system. And in the end, it is what strengthens and informs our legal system.”
Other recent legal issues either weren’t asked about or weren’t addressed as Justice Thomas took questions from four students selected by a faculty committee.
Justice Thomas brushed off a question about campaign finance, wasn’t asked specifically about adding more minorities to the court or who he expects will be the next justice to leave the court. He did, however, address campaign financing last week at an event at Stetson University.
“I found it fascinating that the people who were editorializing against it were The New York Times Company and The Washington Post Company,” Justice Thomas said at Stetson, according to a report in The New York Times. “These are corporations.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy, speaking at Pepperdine University on Wednesday, generally sidestepped questions about the majority opinion he wrote in the campaign finance case and the president’s criticism of it during the State of the Union, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Does Justice Kennedy feel scolded?” one questioner asked.
“He doesn’t,” Justice Kennedy replied.