WASHINGTON (AP) — Clarence Thomas, who marked his 74th birthday on June 23, has of late achieved two long-sought goals: expanding gun rights and overturning Roe v. Wade’s nationwide protection for abortion rights.
If he was ready to take a victory lap, Thomas didn’t let on. Instead, he called on his colleagues to do more, to revisit the Supreme Court’s cases acknowledging rights to same-sex marriage, intimate same-sex relations and contraception.
After 30 years on the court, Thomas’s influence has never been greater, and yet he remains a lightning rod for controversy. That includes recent questions about his wife’s role in attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election and his decision not to recuse himself from cases that involved that effort. Thomas has said nothing in response to the criticism, and he could still serve another decade or more, racking up additional victories with a court that has become dramatically more conservative.
“If you serve long enough sometimes things go your way eventually,” said Ohio Northern University professor Scott Gerber, the author of a book on Thomas.
Gerber said that at this point there are people who have moved through the conservative legal movement, studying conservatives like Thomas and the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who have now joined Thomas on the court. “They’ve learned from him and agree [with him],” he said.
Thomas is now the senior member of a group of conservative justices with the votes to control the court, not only in terms of which cases the court takes up but how broadly it rules. That’s a change for Thomas, whose views were for years seen as far out of the mainstream and whose near-silence on the bench had become legendary.
“He’s always been known as not taking quite the same approach,” said George Mason University law professor Jennifer Mascott, who worked for Thomas as a law clerk. But in the guns case, she said: “Everybody joined with him, his approach.”
Ralph Rossum, who has also written a book about Thomas, said the justice once compared himself to a marathon runner in his need to take a long view. Now, as time has gone on and more conservative justices have been placed on the court, Thomas is, in a sense, running “faster and faster” and “lengthening his stride,” Rossum said.
Thomas declined an interview request from the Associated Press.
On top of the criticism Thomas has faced over the years for his views, he and his wife, conservative activist Virginia Thomas, have engendered indignation recently over their actions following then-incumbent President Donald Trump’s defeat by Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
Among other things, Virginia Thomas, who is widely known as Ginni, exchanged messages with then–White House chief of staff Mark Meadows encouraging him to work to overturn Biden’s victory and urged Republican lawmakers in Arizona, where Biden won, to choose their own slate of electors.
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol has asked her for an interview . (She initially said she welcomed the opportunity to speak with the select committee but this week abandoned that position and said she saw no need to testify before the panel.)