Slate Writers: With Trump’s Help, Clarence Thomas’s ‘Once-Fringy Ideas Are Suddenly Flourishing’

August 3rd, 2017 6:01 PM

Clarence Thomas is known for speaking not softly, but rarely, when the Supreme Court holds oral arguments. Nonetheless, he carries a big stick in terms of influence on both the courts and the presidency, warn Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern in a Wednesday piece.

Thomas, who in Lithwick and Stern’s words had “spent his career teetering off the right edge of the federal bench,” now “finds himself at the center of the table…[He] is more than just the Trump administration’s philosophical hero. His once-fringy ideas are suddenly flourishing -- not only on the high court, through his alliance with [Neil] Gorsuch, but also in the executive branch.”

As Lithwick and Stern tell it, Thomas and Trump might as well be co-starring in a SCOTUS-POTUS buddy movie called Smart and Much Dumber: “Trump’s crude understanding of the United States government aligns startlingly well with Thomas’ sophisticated political worldview...The two men…share an absolutist opposition to gun control, a belief that the government may favor and promote Christianity over other faiths, a deep skepticism of the elite academic establishment, and a nostalgia for the perceived America of yesteryear.” Their major difference is that Trump is “far too witless to grasp, let alone implement, [Thomas’s] complex theories of law.”

But it’s not an insurmountable difference. For one thing, the writers suggest, Thomas may be smart, but he isn’t nuanced (supposedly, he has “cultivated a with-us-or-against-us mindset that owes more to AM radio than George Will, “ one which “maps perfectly onto Trump’s Fox News–inflected worldview”). Moreover, Thomas, somewhat like Mike Pence, is a power behind the throne:

The justice’s fingerprints are all over the executive branch. That’s because he’s trained a small army of acolytes to implement his larger project of shrinking the regulatory state and fighting back against the supposed chokehold of political correctness. (It’s exactly this scourge of “political correctness,” both Trump and Thomas would have you believe, that allowed claims of improper sexual conduct to briefly overshadow their professional accomplishments.)

Everywhere you turn in Trumpland, you’ll find a slew of Thomas’ former clerks in high places.

Lithwick and Stern also indicate that Thomas and Trump think they’ve been persecuted, and want payback. Both “have spent decades as the brunt of liberal jokes and slights. Both see themselves as innocent victims of women and interest groups that have fabricated claims against them. Both have seen their ideas slip from the very fringes of political discourse into the ascendancy…Now, Thomas stands as a symbol of what a faltering, lawless Trump may yet accomplish -- if his supporters can turn a blind eye on the faltering lawlessness.”