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Archive for Wednesday, October 30, 2002

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October 30, 2002

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Clarence Thomas said he and fellow U.S. Supreme Court justices weren't heroes for staying in session last year while anthrax scares shut down much of Washington, D.C.

"I'd like to say there was something noble about us staying in business after the anthrax scare," Thomas said Tuesday. "But (Chief Justice William Rehnquist) wasn't going to get off schedule. The terrorists weren't going to knock him off schedule."

Thomas had two question-and-answer sessions Tuesday to end his visit to the Kansas University School of Law.

Echoing his comments Monday, he urged students to learn about the court by reading briefs for themselves.

He cited the 1992 case Hudson v. McMillan, in which an inmate claimed jailers violated the Eighth Amendment  which outlaws cruel and unusual punishment  when they hit him in the face, causing minor injuries.

In a dissenting opinion, Thomas said while the jailers' actions may have violated other laws or portions of the Constitution, he didn't think they violated the inmate's Eighth Amendment rights.

"The commentary in the media was that I supported beating prisoners," he said. "That's asinine."

Thomas said he bases most of his decisions on briefs, not oral arguments.

"I don't see a need for all those questions," he said. "I think justices, 99 percent of the time, have their minds made up when they go to the bench. Also, there are so many questions you have to elbow your way in. I think it's unseemly for the Supreme Court to look like the 'Family Feud.'"

Thomas again refuted notions that the Bush v. Gore case, which decided the 2002 election, created hostility within the court. He said all nine justices went out to lunch after the decision was announced.

"I get exasperated with my colleagues," he said. "But I get exasperated with my family members."

Thomas also blamed judges themselves for the grilling some judges and justices take during confirmation hearings. He said judges have decided too many policy issues, which opened the door to senators questioning their political stances.

He experienced that grilling himself in 1991, when he was narrowly confirmed by the U.S. Senate despite accusations by former co-worker Anita Hill that he sexually harassed her.

Asked if he would go through the confirmation process again, he said: "I absolutely would  if for no other reason than to irritate the people who spent so much time on it."

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