It may be too much to expect any individual justice to be perfectly consistent from year to year and across a diverse array of cases. But here we have two public-school cases, both involving the rights of students, and both decided within days of each other, with Justice Thomas writing concurring opinions in each case, concurrences that no other justices joined. Don't you think that someone, somewhere, might have asked Thomas: 'Um, so you ask what the Framers would have thought about speech in school but not what they would have thought about voluntary integration. Why not?'...
Justice Thomas is not sticking with his professed commitment to originalism, and is certainly not living up to his newfound reputation as the high priest of principled originalism.
His recent opinions instead suggest that Thomas will use originalism where it provides support for a politically conservative result, even if that support is weak, as it is in the student-speech case. But where history provides no support, he's likely to ignore it altogether. If his cheerleaders believe otherwise, they should try to reconcile his opinions in the two school cases on originalist grounds. ...
For someone lauded as the originalist's originalist, this is a pretty weak showing. For someone looking to advance a conservative political agenda, however, these three cases constitute a sort of trifecta: Curtail voluntary integration and student rights while boosting the rights of corporations. Not a bad couple of weeks.
There is a lesson here for liberals. In two of the three most important cases of the past term, Thomas was forced to abandon originalism—his version of it, anyway—in order to reach a politically conservative result. In the other, his originalist reasoning was weak at best. What this suggests is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, originalism may not be co-extensive with the Republican Party platform after all. It also suggests, as we've written elsewhere, that liberals ought to begin to take a closer look at text and history themselves.
Sunday, August 5, 2007
Slate Magazine: By Doug Kendall and Jim Ryan