Former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas says he is a 'wonderful' person with 'originalist' views, but 'he will be judged for what he does as a justice'

·5 min read
Justice Clarence Thomas
Justice Clarence Thomas.Erin Schaff/Associated Press
  • Insider spoke to a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

  • Stephen McAllister said Thomas is "genuine," but he'll be "judged for what he does as a justice."

  • Thomas has recently faced scrutiny for his wife's apparent effort to overturn the 2020 election.

Justice Clarence Thomas's controversial concurring opinion in the repeal of Roe v. Wade sparked criticism about the consistency of the conservative justice, who notably does not give much away when cases are being heard and whose political-activist wife has prompted ethics concerns.

But some who know him on a personal level defended his character despite being at odds with his ideology.

In his opinion, the divisive justice of over 30 years said the Supreme Court should "reconsider" rulings that established birth-control access and progress on gay rights. That, coupled with the controversy around his wife Ginni's involvement in the attempt to overturn the 2020 election, was just the latest in a string of positions that heightened scrutiny over his position on the Supreme Court.

In January, Thomas was the sole member of the court to vote in favor of former President Donald Trump's effort to curb the January 6 House Select Committee from obtaining documents related to the failed coup attempt. A petition calling for Thomas' resignation, arguing that he is not an unbiased judge, garnered more than 1 million signatures. His conservative ideology has also led to calls for his removal from the court. Some students at George Washington University, where he is a lecturer, have also called for his removal from the school.

A former clerk to Thomas said the increasingly sour perception of the justice stands in stark contrast to who he is as a person.

Stephen McAllister, a US Attorney for the District of Kansas from 2018 to 2021, clerked for Thomas from October 1991 to January 1992.

"As a person, I think he's absolutely wonderful, but he will be judged for what he does as a justice," McAllister told Insider, referring to Thomas' concurring opinion released when Roe fell at the end of June in which he argued that birth-control accessintimate gay relationships, and marriage equality should be "reconsidered."

McAllister, who clerked for both Thomas and Justice Byron White separately in the 1990s, said that while he "learned from him as a leader," he doesn't necessarily agree with Thomas' political views.

"I'm not saying I agree with everything that he believes or does, but as a person, he's very genuine, warm, actually humble, and sincere and cares a lot about people actually as individuals, " McAllister said.

Thomas' Past Controversies

Early in his career, Thomas faced sexual-harassment allegations from Anita Hill. Hill — who was his assistant while he was the assistant secretary of education for civil rights and chairman of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the 1980s — accused him of making unwanted sexual remarks, sometimes "graphically of his own sexual prowess." He's denied the allegations.

Moreover, his stances have not always aligned with some members of the Black community, including Rosa Parks, who said Thomas' presence on the court would be a step back for racial progress.

In his concurring opinion released at the time of Roe's repeal, Thomas wrote "we should reconsider all of this Court's substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell." The repeal, coupled with Thomas' concurring opinion, worried many Americans — politicians and otherwise — that the country was backstepping from the progress it's made on reproductive, LGBTQ, and civil rights. Thomas, whose wife is a white conservative activist, did not mention looking into repealing the right to interracial marriage.

"I'm not going to defend necessarily where he comes down on things," McAllister said, adding that Thomas has always held an originalist perspective of the Constitution.

"He has a view of the Constitution, but it's been consistent," he said. "I mean, he's been that way from the beginning, so there's no surprises."

Since his appointment to the court by President George H.W. Bush, Thomas has carried relatively the same beliefs. McAllister argued that Thomas makes his decisions on the Court through an "originalist" lens — meaning he believes that the Constitution should be taken as it was written.

"He thinks the court's gone down the wrong analytical path since basically the early 1870s," McAllister told Insider. He pointed to Thomas' focus on the "privileges or immunities clause of the 14th amendment," which established equal protection under the law.

Opinions aside, McAllister said his former boss was "not too high and mighty" and knew the custodians and cafeteria staff that other justices may have ignored.

"He's a wonderful man and person and I think probably everybody who's worked with him would tell you that he's an extremely personable, down-to-earth earth human," he said.

Similarly, a former assistant to Thomas also defended the judge on July 7 in an article responding to former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton calling the justice "a person of grievance."

"In any event, Clarence Thomas was one of 12 Black students in his Yale Law School class. He grew up on a farm during the depths of Jim Crow. Is it easy to forget childhood humiliations and denigrations? Did Frederick Douglass forget his enslavement?" the former assistant, Armstrong Williams, wrote in an op-ed for The Hill.

"Maybe that is the ultimate absolute fidelity to the Constitution," he said of Thomas' conservative stances. "I suppose it's the ultimate originalism. If you take that view that document really is the original intent, then if you've strayed from that, then the right path is to go back to that even if you strayed from it a long time ago."

The Supreme Court did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment. Thomas was not immediately reachable for comment.

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