Thomas criticizes ‘distorted’ judicial nomination process


Politics and the influence of special interests groups have warped America’s system of nominating and confirming federal judges, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas told a meeting of lawyers and judges Friday in Kansas City.

"They have distorted the process," said Thomas whose own nomination to the high court in 1991 was contested bitterly after allegations of sexual harassment arose during his confirmation hearings.

Thomas made his remarks to the annual conference of the 8th U.S. Judicial Circuit, a meeting of judges an lawyers who work in federal courts in Missouri and six other Midwestern states. Thomas oversees the circuit.

While not directly discussing his confirmation battle, Thomas said he process President George Bush used to make his nomination should stand as a model for other presidents in selecting candidates for federal judgeships.

Describing in detail the four days between the resignation of Justice Thurgood Marshall and his own nomination. Thomas sought to dispel speculation that Bush has made him pass an ideological litmus test.

Soon after Marshall announced his resignation, Thomas said, Thomas was called to the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., for a session with administration officials.

"I was asked perfunctory questions – and I mean perfunctory – (such as), ‘Has anybody every criticized you and your wife for your biracial marriage?’" Thomas recalled. "I won’t tell you my answer, but it was prescient."

Bush soon called Thomas to Maine to "discuss that Supreme Court thing," the justice said.

At Bush’s Kennebunkport home, the president asked two questions and made a promise before offering the post, Thomas said.

Can you and your family survive the confirmation ?

"Cavalierly, I said ‘yes’" Thomas remembered.

If nominated to the court, could you call them as you see them?

"I said ‘yes, that’s the way I live,’" Thomas said.

Bush then pledged never to criticize him or his decisions from the bench.

"There were no questions about abortion and no questions about judicial philosophy," Thomas said. ‘Those questions came from the interest groups."

Bush’s approach showed respect for judicial independence and he man he was considering for he post, Thomas said.

"In my view, if your respect the independence prior to the appointment, it will be respected after the process. Our federal judiciary can only benefit from this process."

Thomas, one of the most conservative members of the Supreme Court, said judges must be able to manage criticism to sit on the federal bench.

And, occasionally, he finds humor in the criticism. He recalled the time a newspaper editorial writer called the "youngest and the cruelest" judge on the court.

"I kind of like that – youngest and the cruelest" mused Thomas who is 51. "Sounds like a soap opera. I particularly like the youngest part"