(CNSNews.com) - The current process of confirming federal judges is harming the judiciary, said Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the most scrutinized members of the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We are doing great damage," he said in a Q&A segment following his speech Thursday before the Federalist Society, a group of conservative lawyers, in Washington, D.C. "I fear how much damage we're going to do to our judiciary. I don't know when it will collapse under the weight of what we're doing, but I think it has to at some point."
Thomas was referencing the partisanship that fueled battles over the confirmation of federal judges. That happened, for instance, in the 2005 confirmation fights of both U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, both conservatives who met stiff opposition from many Senate Democrats and liberal groups.
Thomas's own confirmation process was marred with allegations that he had sexually harassed former colleague Anita Hill. Despite the brutal Senate fight, Thomas was confirmed in 1991.
Thomas talked about other issues, such as his new book, "My Grandfather's Son," what he called "proselytizing" in many law schools today, and his 16 years on the high court.
On the question of the current confirmation process, Thomas said he occupies the chambers of Justice Byron White.
"He told me he was nominated and sworn in in 10 days," said Thomas. "Now, if that process worked for 200 years, why did we change it? If it gave us the judiciary that sustained this country through difficult times - whether you agree or disagree with this decision or that decision - why did we change it? Under the current system, what does it add?"
"I think that we all know that so much of the criticism and input now is sort of this outcome-determinative effort," he said.
"It's people who are simply saying we want a particular outcome from the courts. When a president thought of doing that, they called it court packing," Thomas continued, referencing the plan by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to add members to the court when the court frustrated his attempts to enact some provisions of the New Deal.
Thomas offered a football analogy to the current confirmation process.
"If you were a big Oklahoma fan and the referee - who is the judge on the field - made a bad call the year before and got to go through a confirmation process in Oklahoma, even though that could be a wonderful referee, how many people in the state of Oklahoma would vote to confirm that referee?" Thomas asked.
"Well, I dare say none, simply because he made a call with which they disagree, and they would hope that they can get a different outcome in the future. And I wouldn't think that's a good way to select judges. It doesn't express any sort of confidence in the system or in the way things have been done in the past," he added.
Thomas said the reaction to his book that recounts his life that began in humble beginnings has been rewarding.
He recalled that a Vietnamese woman who read the book told him, "Your story is my story." A man in rural Iowa said to him, "We grew up exactly the same way."
Perhaps the most relevant anecdote to much of his speech was about a black man, who told Thomas that he had sat "in his car and wept upon reading the book because it told him that he had taken the safe course by not expressing his own opinions - that he'd gone along to get along."
Thomas said that anecdote symbolizes much of the problem with Washington, the media and academia. Debate has been muzzled as liberals have monopolized much of the dialogue and silenced divergent views, he said, adding, however, that he thinks some of that ideological straightjacket is slowly coming undone.
Make media inquiries or request an interview with Fred Lucas.
Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-brief.
E-mail a comment or news tip to Fred Lucas.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.