Journal of Law and Liberty holds symposium: The Unknown Justice Thomas (VIDEO)

Journal of Law and Liberty holds symposium: The Unknown Justice Thomas

The NYU Journal of Law and Liberty presented "The Unknown Justice Thomas," a symposium on March 2, giving in-depth academic analysis to Justice Clarence Thomas and his impact on the U.S. Supreme Court. "Justice Thomas has now been on the Court for nearly 20 years, yet there has been only a quite small amount of academic analysis devoted to his work," said symposium advisor Richard Pildes, Sudler Family Professor of Constitutional Law, who delivered the event’s opening remarks. "One can speculate about the reasons, but the fact is that there was a lacuna here that the symposium begins to fill. Moreover, there are many distinctive elements in Justice Thomas' work, which makes it all the more appropriate to explore."

The symposium was divided into three panels, each of which included a presentation from a former clerk of Justice Thomas and responses from two commentators. Topics, which were chosen by the presenters, ranged from the motives behind Justice Thomas' originalism to his concerns for underprivileged citizens. In the first panel, Professor Nicole Stelle Garnett of Notre Dame Law School, who clerked for Justice Thomas in the 1998-99 term, cited his opinions in cases such as Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and City of Chicago v. Morales in her presentation, "'There But for the Grace of God Go I': Justice Thomas & the Little Guy." While Justice Thomas' opposition to affirmative action is often criticized as being elitist, Garnett insisted that he knowingly distrusts and resents elite efforts to experiment with the disadvantaged. 

The second panel, "Which Original Meaning of the Constitution Matters to Justice Thomas," was led by Professor Gregory Maggs of George Washington University Law School, who clerked for Justice Thomas in the 1991-92 term.

Video from the second panel:

The event’s final session, entitled "Clarence X? The Black Nationalist Behind Justice Thomas' Originalism," featured Pildes presenting a paper by Professor Stephen F. Smith of the University of Virginia School of Law and a law clerk for Justice Thomas in the 1993-94 term.

Video from the third panel:

"It was our suspicion that Thomas' jurisprudence was richer and more nuanced than he has been given credit for by popular and legal commentators," said Daniel Meyler '09, the Journal’s editor-in-chief and an organizer of the event. "We hoped to make a few arguments that people would disagree with, but that would engender thoughtful response."