It’s not often in our fractured political culture we see people from opposing camps openly defend one another. Yet, the Supreme Court — arguably one of the most scrutinized facets of government today — continues to show people how to disagree and still respect one another.
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Retired Justice Stephen Breyer, a liberal nominated by former President Bill Clinton, recently defended Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative, who has been under fire in the media of late.
Breyer, at a conference in Boston last Friday for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, called Thomas a “man of integrity” and said he never saw Thomas act in unethical ways, according to Bloomberg Law.
“As far as I’m concerned, I sat next to him on the bench for 28 years,” he said. “I like him. He’s a friend of mine. I’ve never seen him do anything underhanded or say anything underhanded.”
Breyer continued, “My personal point of view is he’s a man of integrity.”
Thomas came under fire earlier this month after a ProPublica report alleged he and his wife, Ginni Thomas, went on luxury trips or stayed at properties owned by Harlan Crow, a businessman and Republican megadonor. Thomas purportedly didn’t disclose these trips.
Congressional Democrats have renewed discussions about installing ethics codes on Supreme Court justices in the wake of the report.
This isn’t the court’s first current or former member to defend Thomas. Last summer, Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke before the American Constitutional Society, praising Thomas for his demeanor.
Sotomayor, known for her liberal takes, said the fellow justice is a friend who is kind and shows compassion and love for those around him. Admitting she and Thomas have divergent views, Sotomayor didn’t let that stop her from offering glowing comments about her companion.
“I suspect I have probably disagreed with him more than with any other justice, that we have not joined each other’s opinions more than anybody else,” Sotomayor said. “And yet, Justice Thomas is the one justice in the building that literally knows every employee’s name — every one of them.”
Watch the justice’s comments:
“Justice Thomas is the one justice in the building that literally knows every employee’s name, every one of them. . . . he is a man who cares deeply about the court as an institution, about the people who work there — about people.” – Justice Sotomayor pic.twitter.com/Pz4TKWeFi3— JCN (@judicialnetwork) June 17, 2022
She said Thomas also approaches people to ask about their family members’ well-being. In fact, she admitted he was the first person to send her flowers when her stepfather died.
“He is a man who cares deeply about the court as an institution, about the people who work there,” Sotomayor said. “He has a different vision than I do about how to help people and about their responsibilities to help themselves.”
The liberal justice said she and Thomas share a “common understanding” regarding people and kindness; this connection, she said, enables them to find common ground.
“That’s why I can be friends with him and still continue our daily battle over our difference of opinions in cases,” Sotomayor said.
Both examples are refreshing amid a culture seeped in an us-versus-them mentality — a tragic dynamic with increasingly stark fissures. And it’s especially notable considering the court’s recent overturning of Roe v. Wade and its handling of contentious religious liberty issues.
If these justices can get along and praise one another while handling our most divisive issues, perhaps culture can learn something about kindness and grace from them.
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