PITTSBURGH – Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Tuesday he is heartbroken over the persistent poverty and social troubles among many black communities but has no answers on how to solve these problems.
Thomas spoke to an appreciative audience at Duquesne Law School in Pittsburgh. The crowd of about 1,200 people responded with both applause and laughter as he discussed politics, the makeup of the Supreme Court, race, and his own struggles to find his path in life.
Thomas said he doesn’t bear any ill-will toward other people who hold views sharply different from his.
“If I was going to have hard feelings, it’d be mostly on race issues,” Thomas said. “My heart is broken because I worked in the inner cities.”
He said he’s seen terrible decline in some black communities over the years and today “virtually every crime is drug related.” Many young people have no families and no education and numerous anti-poverty programs have failed to make a difference, he said.
“We should at least fess up and say something is wrong,” Thomas said.
While saying he doesn’t have an answer to such problems, he recalled that the Catholic sisters who taught him as a boy in Georgia drove home one point.
“We were told under all circumstances that we were inherently equal,” he said, adding that he’s always been perplexed by people who assume he should think a certain way because he’s black. “My family was not inferior. I have never believed it and I never will.”
Thomas said he was angry about racial injustice as a young man, but he came to feel that anger wasn’t the answer.
“The question is how do you respond,” he said. “How do you deal with difficult things in a way that’s constructive?”
Thomas noted that he voted for Democrats Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 presidential election and George McGovern in 1972, but said he just doesn’t like politics.
“I don’t know how you tell somebody something that is obviously wrong, and you make them believe it,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Asked if he was surprised to see a black man become president, he said “no” but then took a subtle jab at Barack Obama. Thomas said he always thought a black president would have to be “approved by the elites” in the media and in society.
During questions from students, one person noted that the Supreme Court is made of elites, too, since most of the justices graduated from Harvard or Yale Law School.
“I think we should have people from other law schools” on the court, Thomas said.
He noted that he reluctantly owns an iPad, wishes he took more music and math in school, and “could have made lots of money” as a private lawyer but chose not to take that route.
Asked for his advice for young law students, he said they should know life will have challenges but to remain positive and “do well in order to do good.”