Leonard Pitts Jr.: If the court loses its legitimacy, can its authority be left behind?

To the Honorable Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States:


Have you ever met your wife?

Yes, it’s a cheeky question, but it seems justified by the speech you gave Friday at a court conference in Atlanta and a question-and-answer session that followed. In an obvious reference to the leaking bombshell of a draft opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade, you complained that institutions are being “bullied” and said that the judiciary is under threat if people are unwilling to “live with outcomes we don’t agree with.”

You said this despite the fact that your girlfriend of 35 years, conservative activist Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, made headlines earlier this year when it was revealed that she conspired with the Trump White House to keep him in power despite of his electoral defeat. She echoed her unsubstantiated claims of fraud and even joined the Jan 6 mob that assembled to nullify the election, though she claims that she parted ways with them before they stormed the US Capitol. USA

Ms. Thomas, then, could fairly be said to be an example of those who bully institutions or refuse to live with outcomes they don’t like. For her to raise these concerns seriously and without mentioning her name suggests that the two of you have not been properly introduced or that she is a man of staggering hypocrisy and profound intellectual dishonesty. One would hate to find those qualities in a man who oversees a traffic court, let alone one who sits on the Supreme Court.

Here’s the thing, sir: there are rules. Adherence to them, the ability to trust them, is what allows a society to function. Some of the rules are written, some are not, but the fact that they are not makes them no less critical. One of those unwritten rules is that high court collegial confidentiality is sacrosanct. So yeah, it’s unfortunate that some leaker leaked.

But he or she is not the first person to violate the court’s unwritten rules. One of his colleagues occupies a seat that was stolen from President Obama. Another sits in a seat she was crammed into eight days before the 2020 election by the same Republicans who had said Election Day 2016 was nine months away from considering Obama’s nominee. Some transparently lied when they testified at confirmation hearings that they upheld Roe as established law. And really, sir, isn’t it a little unseemly for the wife of a Supreme Court justice to be part of a conspiracy to nullify an election? Or so that it does not refrain from the cases that derive from it?

As Americans, we have traditionally respected the Supreme Court’s rulings, even when they were terrible, even when they set the nation back, because, as silly or as terrible as they were, we considered the court itself to be an apolitical and properly constituted court. In a word, it was legit. But with their bare-knuckled, end-justifies-the-means court approach, conservatives have devastated that part of civic faith.

Not surprisingly, a Gallup poll from September found court approval at 40%, the lowest level ever recorded by Gallup, and a sharp drop from 58 percent a year earlier. One shudders to think where he is now. And one wonders: if the Court loses its legitimacy, can its authority be left far behind?

Faced with that question, is your problem that an anonymous leaker breached confidentiality? Sir, maybe that person is just wondering why they should be required to abide by the rules.

It doesn’t seem like anyone else is.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a national columnist for The Miami Herald and winner of a Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

Leonard Pitts Jr. Columns | Opinion


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