Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas says the media's coverage of the high court is often unfair by implying that the justices' personal beliefs – and not the text of the Constitution – determine how they rule.
Thomas, the longest-serving member of the current court, told an audience at the University of Notre Dame last Thursday that the role of a judge is similar to that of a referee in a football game.
"I think the media makes it sound as though you are just always going right to your personal preference. So if they think you are anti-abortion or something personally, they think that's the way you always will come out," said Thomas, who is Catholic.
"They think you're for this or for that. They think you've become like a politician," he added. "That's a problem. You're going to jeopardize any faith in the legal institutions. And I think the media and the interest groups further that."
He compared being a judge to working as a referee at a Notre Dame football game.
"If a referee makes a call that favors Notre Dame and Notre Dame wins, people would say, 'Well, that was a fine referee,'" Thomas said. "... But, if the referee makes that very same call and it works against Notre Dame – 'Oh my goodness, This guy can't even see.'"
Football fans, he said, "want a particular outcome" and don't care about impartiality, Thomas said. Yet contemporary media coverage of the Supreme Court, Thomas said, too often takes the route of a fan.
"Read any article about one of the big cases, and that's precisely what you have," Thomas said. If the media outlet agreed with the outcome, then it's an "excellent" decision. If they disagreed, then it's "horrible," he said.
The media's coverage, he said, "sort of encourages these preconceptions about the court – that it's all just personal preferences."
Thomas was nominated by President George H.W. Bush and was confirmed in 1991.
"There are some things that conflict very strongly with my personal opinion, my policy preferences. And those were very, very hard – particularly early on [in his career]," he said. "But I don't do a lot of hand-wringing in my opinions and tell people, 'Oh I'm really sad.' That's not the role of a judge. You do your job, and you go cry alone. But there have been some that broke my heart."
Thomas said, "I have lived up to my oath."
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Mark Wilson/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.