Thursday, October 20, 2011

Justice Clarence Thomas’ Interpretation and Application of the Constitution

Textualism, Originalism, and Natural Law as a Means to Reducing Judicial Discretion and Achieving Judicial Restraint
by Margaret Doody

Margaret Doody is a 2011 graduate of Albany Law School. She was a semi-finalist in the 2010-2011 Karen C. McGovern Senior Prize Trials.
In this paper, which she prepared for Professor Stephen Gottlieb's Supreme Court Watch Seminar, Ms. Doody examines Justice Thomas' use of a combination of interpretative methodologies in reaching ideologically conservative positions throughout his career.

Appointed to the Supreme Court in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush, Justice Clarence Thomas has developed a sound reputation as one of the Court’s most conservative members. Quite shortly after joining the Court in October of that year, Justice Thomas aligned himself with Justice Scalia and Chief Justice Rehnquist, forming the conservative trio that lasted until Rehnquist’s death in 2005.

It is easy to view this alliance as indicative of shared conservative views and jurisprudence. However, such an assumption is not entirely true. Although it is accurate to say that all three justices share conservative values, such a statement represents an oversimplified view of the individual justices’ jurisprudential styles. Upon closer examination, Justice Thomas stands out as possessing unique, while still conservative, views that are expressed and carried out through his own brand of jurisprudence.

In order to understand Justice Thomas’ jurisprudence, it is necessary to first understand the three separate elements that Thomas combines to form the unique methodological approach he applies when interpreting the Constitution and deciding cases. These elements are each distinct and independent approaches to Constitutional interpretation. They are textualism, originalism, and the application of the notion of higher law.

Read the entire paper HERE