Justice Thomas Denounces ‘the Nastiness and the Lies’ Faced by His Family

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Justice Clarence Thomas denounced on Friday “the nastiness and the lies” that have shadowed him in recent years as public scrutiny has mounted over his wife’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election and luxury gifts he has accepted from billionaire friends.

It amounted to some of the most extensive public remarks he has made since revelations that he failed to disclose years of lavish trips from wealthy conservatives, like the Texas real estate magnate Harlan Crow, including on private jets and a superyacht.

“My wife and I, the last two or three years, just the nastiness and the lies,” said Justice Thomas, who did not specify what he was referring to in addressing a full ballroom of lawyers and judges gathered for a judicial conference in Alabama. “There’s certainly been a lot of negativity in our lives, my wife and I, over the last few years, but we choose not to focus on it.”

The justice faced calls for recusal after text messages and emails showed that his wife, Virginia Thomas, known as Ginni, sought to overturn the election, appealing to administration officials and lawmakers. Justice Thomas has continued to participate in a number of cases related to the 2020 election, including three about Jan. 6 on the docket this term.

The remarks were part of a wide-ranging conversation at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit Judicial Conference held at a luxury resort on the waters of Mobile Bay, a shallow inlet of the Gulf of Mexico.

Interviewed by a former clerk, Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, now a federal judge in Florida best known for overturning the Biden administration’s mask mandate, Justice Thomas reminisced about past years on the court, when he said it would have been impossible to imagine anyone leaking opinions. That appeared to be a reference to the 2022 leak of the draft decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization eliminating the constitutional right to abortion.

“We may have been a dysfunctional family, but we were a family,” he said. “And it would be inconceivable that anyone would leak an opinion of the court or do anything to intentionally harm one another.”

He expressed frustration with some of the current trends in the federal courts, including the practice of seeking sympathetic judges and the increasing use of emergency petitions that ask the Supreme Court to consider issues quickly.

He said cherry-picking judges, or forum-shopping, had led to situations where “a district judge can issue an injunction for the whole nation.” The emergency docket, where the justices often decide on issues, some of which are extremely consequential, without full briefing or oral argument, “short-circuits our process.”

The justice, who did not take questions and declined an interview request, appeared at ease, laughing and beaming as he pointed out his law clerks in the audience. He repeated several times that he and Ms. Thomas, who sat near the front of the ballroom in a bright pink floral tunic, try to ignore their critics.

“You don’t get to prevent people from doing horrible things or saying horrible things,” the justice said. “But one, you have to understand and accept the fact that they don’t, they can’t change you unless you permit that.”

Justice Thomas returned to many familiar themes, including his reluctance at becoming a judge and then a justice. He said he had never sought, or wanted, a public life but believed it to be his duty.

Before he was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, he said, “I was thinking of getting out of D.C. I had no interest in being in public life.”

“I wound up in this job,” he said. “And this is, we pray, to do whatever it was that God wanted me to do, what I was being called to do. But being in public life is not something I would have chosen to do.”

He peppered his remarks with references to his childhood in Georgia. He was born in Pin Point, a tiny enclave in the tidal wetlands near Savannah, and then grew up in the city, raised mainly by his grandparents.

He described how he tries to write clearly and plainly, avoiding word play and unnecessary flourishes because he wants those who do not practice the law, like the people he grew up with, to be able to understand the decisions of the Supreme Court.

Before he could finish an anecdote about walking with a friend in his old neighborhood in Georgia, he noted that the memory came from “before they started attacking my friends; I hope I still have some.”

The comment appeared to be a nod to the revelations about Mr. Crow. Justice Thomas has maintained that Mr. Crow is a longtime friend and that he did not act improperly.

Their relationship has raised eyebrows, in part because Mr. Crow purchased the justice’s mother’s home and funded a museum in Pin Point in a former seafood cannery where his mother worked as a crab picker.

Justice Thomas picked up another familiar refrain, detailing how he and Ms. Thomas love traveling in their motor coach because they get to interact with ordinary people.

“Especially in Washington, people pride themselves in being awful,” he said. “It’s a hideous place, as far as I’m concerned. Because the rest of the country, it’s one of the reasons we like R.V.-ing, you get to be around regular people who don’t pride themselves in doing harmful things, merely because they have the capacity to do it.”

He made no mention of an investigation that revealed that he borrowed more than a quarter of a million dollars from a wealthy friend to buy the 40-foot luxury motor coach.

He stressed that one of his long-term goals has been to try to make the court more representative of the country. He said he chooses law clerks from outside Ivy League schools, pointing to Judge Mizelle as an example.

The justice said he felt encouraged by the collegiality of the conference, lamenting how he could no longer mingle with attendees as easily as when he first joined the court.

“I didn’t need so much security back then,” he said.

All of the justices received increased security after the Dobbs leak. Several security officers were positioned around the ballroom and in the hallways.

Asked about any advice he wished he had received before becoming a judge, Justice Thomas said he was grateful for the support of the other justices, but said it has not been easy.

“If I knew more about the court, I would have stayed on the D.C. Circuit,” he said, to some laughter from the audience. “But we don’t get to choose that. We’re called to do something and we do it. But I think that the — I really would have preferred, if I could be selfish, to be on the D.C. Circuit. I think this court is a bit tougher of a haul.”

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