May 6th, 2013
10:23 AM ET
9 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. Ol' Yeller

    Like so many republicans, Mr. Thomas lives in a reality which has been formed for him by the FAUX news network and that ilk. They don't question anything because they just know they are right because Shawn Hannity or rush told them so. They go about their lives with this little kernel of moral superiority they hold over the rest of us because they believe they are well informed and 'right'. This serves them so well, that it is difficult to even see them flinch when some major issue turns out to have been totally oversold and they end going to bed early on election night because their 'neck and neck' candidate takes a knockout punch before the Tonight Show airs. It's pitifully sad to watch this grand old party slowly disintegrate before our eyes, but we can rejoice in the in the knowledge that evolution IS still happening and brave and smart still beats stupid and mean almost every time. PEACE

    May 6, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  2. jonbme

    "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."

    This is true no matter what the color of the candidate is.

    May 6, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  3. The Real Tom Paine

    Has it occurred to Thomas that he is, by definition, a member of that same elite? Actually, he is a member of another elite, those who feel they are superior because they have rejected what they regard as " the elite". A person with a lifetime appointment and a license to impact the lives of millions of people either by nodding yea or nay is not " one of us". What an arrogant, narcissistic SOB. This has nothing to do with his politics: it has everything to do with his sincere belief that he is better than the rest of us. Its like having Sheldon Cooper without the studio audience and without being a genius at Physics.

    May 6, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  4. eddale

    Clarence, does your master Scalia know you are speaking in public? Did you clear this with him?

    May 6, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  5. here and back again

    This man is an embarrassment. He can't even ASK a question during a trial. Pathetic.

    May 6, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  6. Alex in Wisconsin

    Newsflash: Justice Thomas, to a large degree, is correct. If the media and the party elites didn't like him, he wouldn't have had a chance against Hillary. The road to approval has always been steeper for men of African decent. Obama won approval in 2004 with his convention speech, but it still wasn't a sure thing in 2007. But a lot of things worked in President Obama's favor: Bush, Palin, the economic collapse, superior campaign strategy that lead to the Iowa win, the Kennedy endorsement, "Hope and Change", Hillary's overconfidence... the list goes on. but just removing a single one of the factors i mentioned would have lead to Obama's defeat.

    May 6, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  7. Tom B

    Apparently the same "elites" that put him into his job on the Supreme Court! He's a disgusting human being.

    May 6, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  8. skarphace

    Jimmy: "There wouldn't be a TEA party without [President Obama's] leftwing agenda and the folks posting here!"

    The Tea Party was formed before Obama was even running for office and was in response to Bush's out of control spending and borrowing, mostly to feed the two wars.

    Therefore, your comment only highlights your own lack of knowledge on the subject.

    May 6, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  9. skarphace

    Jimmy: "There wouldn't be a TEA party without [President Obama's] leftwing agenda and the folks posting here!"

    The Tea Party was formed before Obama was even running for office

    May 6, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  10. Wasnt Mee

    The Elites on both sides determine the candidates for President. Then "we" the 1% get to choose which of the Elie's choices win.

    May 6, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  11. ORChuck

    I find it very telling - and, indeed, proof of Justice Thomas's thesis - that the line, "Thomas didn't mention President Obama specifically in his comments." is quite near the end of this article. The implication from the start is that the Justice is talking about Obama. This is a misrepresentation of Mr. Thomas's statements.

    May 6, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  12. skarphace

    Well, I know I am ignorant of what goes on between members of "The Elites", but it seems to me that there are elites of all political affiliations. There are both Liberal elites and Conservative elites and they do not have the same agendas (again, I could be wrong here). It seems to me that the Conservative elites such as David Koch, Grover Norquist, David Keen, and Rupert Murdoch, definitely did not "approve" of Barack Obama becoming POTUS in any way whatsoever.

    May 6, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  13. Mr Howdy Doody III

    What the Judge is saying is that Obama is A MEDIA PRESIDENT! The elites chose him and made him what he is! That's a mighty powerful acknowledgement from one of the most powerful people in the nation. But does that have any real effects? I dont know....the American people are not as receptive as they used to be to anything significant said by anyone. However, if the American people did understand what the Judge was saying, they would be pretty roused up into some kind of change I would think....though I cannot say that there is any combat in the Judges statement. Maybe he just said that to point out a simple any case not many are going to notice, and even less are going to be moved to action since at this point most people are simply hanging on I think and really dont seem to have much to spare for action....which bodes ill for the entire nation.

    May 6, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  14. bigfoot

    It MUST be pointed out that Clarence Thomas is one of the LEAST effective justices in the history of the court.

    May 6, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  15. Nobody Asked Me

    16 years in the Supreme Court and he can't be bothered to ask any questions. He must sit there and daydream. Another govt employee stealing his wage. Has anyone looked at his doodle sheet? 16 years worth.

    May 6, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  16. Bruce

    I thought everyone already knew this. He calls them elite, I call them the powers that be. All of the partisans keep believing they have a voice that is heard. Truth is the people behind the curtain are the same people that back democrats and republicans alike, but there is the perception that there is some great Battle Royal going on between Dems and Rep that can change the status quo. Stay critical people, if you still have the ability to think for yourselves. The media fuels antimocity between differing opinions, but the outcome has usually already been determined. Dont get emotional, stay critical.

    May 6, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  17. Nonelite

    I am sure all presidents over the last 100 years or so have been approved by the "elite". This is why we never see a middle income or lower person rise up to be a serious presidential candidate. They want someone who has seen the money flow diagrams and embrace them. Presidents, at one time, were elected to lead. Now they are to provide the balance to the powerful. If you think putting more people on welfare does not help the powerful by making them dependent on the process, WOW!! This is both the republicans, who do not hide their desire for money, and the democrats, that say more should go to the poor but want someone else to pay for it, very few are donating the own money, entertainment industry is the worst of these. We as Americans have allowed this. (OK so maybe Jimmy Carter is an exception)

    May 6, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  18. Katie

    Wow! I have been elevated to 'elite' status! Imagine that – no college, no health insurance, single mom, working 39 hours at minimum wage (no benefits – 39 hours!) trying to stay off food stamps. I'm 'elite'!!!

    May 6, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  19. Me 3

    And no one wants Clarence Thomas. Another GOP nut job, and a waste of tax payer money. Why don't you retire and live off money given to your wife by the GOP milliionaires and billionaires that shape your opinions.

    May 6, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  20. luvUamerica

    The conservative justices in our current Supreme Court have periodically come out, wether they are black or white, and have attacked the president. It speaks of their character. The kind of people they. They are partisan politicans. There is no doubt about it. If one is to sit and think that we have justices who judge based on merits of an argument, or with regard to our constitution, these group of justices are not it. It will be a difficult thing to look up to them and tell our kids, this how it is supposed to be. It is a sad commentary on the state of our country. On the state of our justices. these are the same justices who stuck their nose in and "appointed" GW Bush, when they should have let Florida deal resolve the issue. Becasue it was a Florida problem.

    It is unfortunate that this man has to come out and play politics. He just tainted his cloak irrepearably.

    May 6, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  21. skarphace

    WachetAuf: "Now, hundreds of thousands of years later, maybe millions since the Garden of Eden we still are faced with the same two human traits, ignorance and narcissism. We therefore deny what is obvious: there is an "elite" group of people who do have the skills and talents to reason through and find solutions for the toughest problems which face humanity."

    Two observations. First, humans, in their current form, have been on the Earth for around 10,000 years, not hundreds of thousands or millions of years.

    Second, you are assuming that those few "elites" have not only overcome their ignorance, but also their narcissism. Otherwise, they are still people acting in their own self-interest, and not in the interest of humanity as a whole. I, for one, do not believe this is true.

    May 6, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  22. Reginald

    In my opinion there are few people in public life less qualified for the position they hold than justice Thomas. the fact that he is too timid or ill informed to ask questions solidifies that notion

    May 6, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  23. cp

    Could he elaborate on the term "elite" and give us an example of an elite. We can only speculate. Why would a justice who rarely speaks to the public choose the topic of a black person becoming president.

    He assumes that Justices do not have political leaning when they decide a case. However, in their personal lives I am sure they have political ideas. They do not act on them but it would be hard to ignore candidates and elections.

    May 6, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  24. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    It seems to me that a Supreme Court justice who truly thought about each case without ideological preconceptions would be a regular swing voter, someone whom you could not easily predict would vote on the liberal or conservative side of a given case.

    May 6, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  25. ghostriter

    I love how republicans can speak wonderfully about Ben Carson, but not much about Collin Powell. I'm guessing that republicans only accept those who tout the party line 24/7/365.

    They turned on Michael Steele as well. They loved Herman Cain till they found out that he had issues. They threw Condi Rice under the bus when she blew the whistle on Bush who unlike Obama, actually read a report on an imminent attack and did nothing.

    And where is the good doctor these days? I'm assuming that him coming out and saying he loved gay people probably didn't sit well with republicans.

    May 6, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
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