Magazine November 15, 2021, Issue

Clarence Thomas’s Constitutional Excavation

Clarence Thomas during the Senate confirmation hearings for his Supreme Court nomination, September 1, 1991 (Lee Corkran/Sygma via Getty Images)
What the justice has achieved in three decades on the Supreme Court

In September 1991, within days of the commencement of Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, construction began on Boston’s ambitious “Big Dig” highway project. Justice Thomas’s confirmation a month later set into motion another big dig — his painstaking, careful, and relentless quest to unearth, clause by clause, issue by issue, the original meaning of the Constitution of the United States.

The two projects were animated by radically different goals. By relocating Interstate 93 into a subterranean tunnel, Boston’s Big Dig sought to bury the mistakes of the past. By excavating and removing layer upon layer of erroneous constitutional doctrine, Justice

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It’s all familiar and boring, the recasting of an American archetype into a new mold to instruct, because they can’t come up with archetypes of their own.


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