U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gave the 2021 Tocqueville Lecture at the University of Notre Dame Thursday. Thomas is only the second Black justice appointed to the court and is currently its longest-serving justice.
In his speech, he reflected on growing up in the segregated South and commented on the “notable pessimism” about the state of the country today.
“We are all aware of those who assert that America is a racist and irredeemable nation,” he said. “But there are many more of us, I think, who feel that America is not so broken as it is adrift at sea.”
During the question-and-answer portion of the program, Thomas defended the court’s independence, saying despite its imperfections, it works.
“It may work sort of like a car with three wheels, but still it works,” Thomas said. “I think we should be careful of destroying our institutions because they don’t give us what we want when we want it.”
He also touched on misconceptions about the court, saying its members “don’t take the pulse of the community.”
“We don’t have town hall meetings, we don’t go and meet with constituents, we don’t take polls, we don’t visit with the local areas,” Thomas said. “We’re supposed to be outside of that.”
He said that prevents the court from making decisions based on politics or public opinion, a position he thinks “the media and the interest groups” mischaracterize.
“They think you’re for this, or for that –– they think you become like a politician,” Thomas said. “I think that’s a problem. I think you’re going to jeopardize any faith in the legal institutions.”
Shortly after Thomas finished speaking, three students at the back of the hall began chanting, “I still believe Anita Hill.”
Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment while he was her supervisor at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and testified against him at his Senate confirmation hearings in 1991.
The students were booed by the crowd and escorted out to a round of applause.