May 6th, 2013
10:23 AM ET
10 years ago

Clarence Thomas: 'The elites' had to approve a black president

(CNN) - Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the high court's only African American jurist, opened up recently about his thoughts on race and the White House.

Asked if he ever expected to see an African American president in his lifetime, the conservative justice said he always knew "it would have to be a black president who was approved by the elites and the media, because anybody that they didn't agree with, they would take apart."

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"And that will happen with virtually - you pick your person, any black person who says something that is not the prescribed things that they expect from a black person will be picked apart," he said in an April interview at Duquesne Law School in Pittsburgh, which aired on C-SPAN.

"You can pick anybody, don't pick me, pick anyone who has decided not to go along with it; there's a price to pay," he continued. "So, I always assumed it would be somebody the media had to agree with."

Thomas didn't mention President Obama specifically in his comments. Asked if he had met the 44th president, Thomas said the two have only met in passing.

"I don't do a lot of Washington and I'm not into politics, so I mean there's not that many occasion," he said, adding that they once shook hands at an inauguration to be polite. "But I've had no in-depth conversation."

Thomas is known for staying largely silent on the bench and has rarely commented on cases during his time in the high court.

"One thing I've demonstrated often in 16 years is you can do this job without asking a single question," he recalled in a speech five years ago.

- CNN's Ashley Killough and Bill Mears contributed to this report.

Filed under: Clarence Thomas • President Obama • Supreme Court
soundoff (597 Responses)
  1. VEW2012

    Didn't his lobbyist wife pick up a couple of million for trying to defeat the Affordable Health Care Act. Isn't that the definition of elitist?

    May 6, 2013 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  2. Jeffrey Cox

    I don't care if he's black, purple, pink, green or fuschia! My disgust for him relates to his refusal to recuse himself from Citizens United and ACA. His wife was taking hundreds of thousands of dollars to represent groups with business in front of the court. How was that NOT blatant conflict of interest?

    The fact that he thinks people only judge him on his color shows what a buffoon he really is!

    May 6, 2013 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  3. Trixiebelle

    Excuse me ... but didn't the "elites" select Thomas? Also, it is quite incredible that Supreme Court Justice Thomas has never weighed in on any decision making of the court. I could have done the same job. Put on a black robe and sit and never open my mouth. Ugh.

    May 6, 2013 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  4. Joe Plumber

    What about Colin Powell? He probably could have easily won by running as a Republican.

    May 6, 2013 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  5. snoozie

    The scariest thing is that he is proud of not asking questions and not speaking up. Sheesh. Hey, Thomas, perhaps the only reason you didn't feel the need to ask any questions was because your colleagues on the bench asked them FOR you. What if no-one asked any questions? Would you then make your decisions in a vacuum?

    May 6, 2013 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  6. Black Dynamite

    He is 1000% right.

    But you could say that about any Presidential candidate, from Ron Paul, to Ross Perot, to Steve Forbes......

    May 6, 2013 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  7. Mike Texoma

    What elite is this Justice Thomas is talking about? Justice Thomas counts himself an elite. He is a sitting Justice on SCOTUS. His wife is God's gift to the tea party. Their arrogance is legendary. He survived a scathing personal attack when he was appointed, and it has colored his thinking indellibly to this day. And he feels himself intellectually above inquiry. Being elite is the lynchpin of the man's entire personality. The pot thinks that if he calls the kettle black no one will notice that he is..

    May 6, 2013 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  8. J. Olver

    Excuse me! I think Mitt Romney is elite if anyone is. I don't think Thomas or most GOP really know the meaning of the word.

    May 6, 2013 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  9. Vi Brown

    I agree with Justice Thomas, but want to add that it works on both sides of the fence. Some of the push back that the president has had from the GOP is because they don't agree with him. Also Justice Thomas, this thought process of giving those in your "kinship group" more preference and leniency when there are differences of opinions is not just limited to partisan politics, it's true for just about every aspect of society including the workplace and families.

    May 6, 2013 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  10. timelord7202

    But the elites didn't want to approve a black justice?

    May 6, 2013 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  11. timelord7202


    Not quite.

    Once elected, corporate lobbyists have more say in the issues.

    After all, before 2008 Obama was hot to trot on single-payer. The moment he got elected, he sat down, brought in Romney's advisers, and made "obamacare" – try "romneycare" instead. Forbes, Politifact, Fox, and a slew of other organizations all pointed out Obama on that issue. Unless, of course, it's a chess move.

    May 6, 2013 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  12. Roses

    I love Clarence Thomas. His autobiography is great, and he exemplifies the American Dream, overcame more than Obama or Michelle in ten of their lifetimes. When I hear them peddle their "humble" beginnings story, it makes me sick. The Obama's only walk in the shadow of Condi Rice, Clarence Thomas.

    May 6, 2013 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  13. us_1776

    It's a new day Clarence.

    No longer are the "elites" in control.


    May 6, 2013 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  14. Craig

    Of course, he's right, which is what drives liberals nuts.

    May 6, 2013 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  15. bellenoitr

    That's rediculous. I'm lower middle class and I voted for Obama because he was smart and had great ideas, certainly not because he was black. BTW, I'm white.

    May 6, 2013 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  16. John Tater

    This man was picked by a Republican president because he is black AND ultra conservative. This put him in a position to do a lot of good for blacks, but he has been an embarrassment instead.

    May 6, 2013 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  17. Stevo

    Always good to hear from the only perjurer on the Supreme Court. Hey Clarence, why don't you do the honest thing and resign?

    May 6, 2013 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  18. Luke,AZ

    During Thomas' confirmation hearing the republican "elites" said "Wait, take that high tech noose off of him, he's one of us ! "

    May 6, 2013 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  19. Wes Scott

    The illiterate always denigrate those with education by calling them "elites." Here is a news flash for Clarence Thomas – "elites" can be conservative or liberal, rich or poor, black, white, red, yellow or brown. It just happens that MOST elites happen to be liberals because they ARE educated, and thus they see right through the GOP.

    May 6, 2013 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  20. Mike

    Thomas doesn't say a darn thing or ask a single question in years on the Supreme Court bench, and now he spills this nonsense to the media? It would be better if he kept his mouth shut.
    "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." – Lincoln (a greater man than Thomas by multiple orders of magnitude

    May 6, 2013 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  21. Ken

    I had to be reminded of Thomas's tenure on the Supreme Court. I hadn't heard anything about him for years it seems. It's sad, that when I do, his comments seem to be derisive and cynical. Perhaps he should stick to silence rather than try to further divide our country with negativity,

    May 6, 2013 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  22. anet99

    He doesn't open his mouth during court rulings, but he now speaks to bash Obama. He's a disgrace to the court. I wonder if he thinks if HE wasn't chosen because of his race?

    May 6, 2013 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
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