How Clarence Thomas went from a left-wing Black radical to one of the Supreme Court’s most conservative judges

Thomas did not write many important opinions. Because of his radical views on the law, he was rarely asked by either of the chief justices to write an opinion in a major case.

The Supreme Court justices in 1993.

Diana Walker/Getty Images

But his dissenting opinions still had repercussions. 

For instance, in a case called Printz v. the United States in 1997, Thomas wrote that the Second Amendment gave an individual the right to bear arms. This was the first time it had been stated in the Supreme Court. 

But just over a decade later, it was upheld by Justice Antonin Scalia in Heller v. District of Columbia. 

According to Supreme Court advocate Tom Goldstein, Thomas’ dissenting opinions were “planting flowers in a garden that he thinks are going to bloom a long time from now.”

Not everyone agreed. 

In a scathing book review, Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy said it was better to look to the Republican Party and Rush Limbaugh’s talking points than turn to the Constitution or The Autobiography of Malcolm X to understand Thomas’ legal thinking. 

Sources: New Yorker, NPR, The Nation

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