During the forum at Saddleback, Barack Obama said he would not have nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court because Thomas lacked relevant experience at the time. I suggested that this statement was disingenuous because Obama clearly wouldn’t have selected Thomas, a powerful spokesman against the “liberal” view of civil rights, regardless of how much judicial experience Thomas had possessed. I agreed, though, that Thomas lacked substantial experience as a judge, adding that in this respect (and this respect alone) Thomas could be viewed as the Barack Obama of the Supreme Court.
A reader reminded me, however, that when Thomas joined the Court, it was not unusual for Justices to have little or no prior judging experience. Two of the sitting Justices at that time, White and Rehnquist, had never been judges. Two others, O’Connor and Brennan had never been federal judges. Lewis Powell, who retired four years before Thomas joined the Court, likewise had never been a judge before he joined the Supreme Court. Neither had former Chief Justic Earl Warren.
Obama isn’t the only person who has singled out Justice Thomas for his lack of prior judging experience. It makes for interesting speculation to ponder the reasons for this singling out.
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