Justice Thomas at 30: Principle over Precedent

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in his chambers in 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Judicial precedents are important. But Clarence Thomas has shown in his time on the Court that reflexive deference to them is unwise.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE S upreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, who this weekend will mark 30 years on the Court, has little patience for precedent veneration. No idol of lawyerly adoration is safe in his chambers. He once called upon his colleagues to reconsider the holding of Calder v. Bull, a case that the Supreme Court decided in 1798. As he often takes care to explain in his lucid opinions, the Court’s job is to be faithful to the Constitution and to the law, not to its own decisions.

Lawyers who are invested in particular precedents, or in judicial supremacy generally, sometimes clutch their pearls when

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