This afternoon was the all law school event for Justice Thomas. On my way to the moot courtroom (our sole auditorium), I was walking with my conservative friend I have talked about before. Suddenly we saw Thomas enter with two US Marshalls and a professor who clerked with Justice Stevens (who was his escort) back in the day.
My conservative friend shook his hand and I watched as Thomas talked to a couple other students.
My overall impression of him is that he is personable and down-to-earth. He loved to laugh and poke fun at himself. He also sees himself as a public servant. He worked for New Haven's Legal Aid and tried to do similar things in Savanna, Georgia (where I take it he is from), he has worked in government almost his whole legal life. He let me ask one of the last questions of the session, and I asked him how he felt about age limits for justices and judges. I was expecting some crack about how he was in favor of them when he got there, but now he is against them. But instead, he first asked back "How old" and talked about how sharp Justices like Stevens (looking at that professor) were at age 86. He talked about what a shame it would be to throw such legal minds to the curb. But then he said if it was 65, he would be happy because then he could get in his RV and go around the country with his family. He feels compelled to stay in his job at the Court until he dies, which must be a daunting prospect when you first get there.
The other thing I noticed was that he doesn't like all the questions the other justices ask, and wants to have the litigants speak, rather than having no clue or not caring about what they have to say. He seems very smart and friendly.
This is the second Justice I have been the in same room with. The other was Justice Ginsberg, who spoke at my undergrad baccalaureate. Her speech was more political and academic. Thomas was more interested in giving us students a heart to heart. He said that he didn't pay off his student loans until his third year on the court. That he had no job when he graduated and no clue what he was doing. And that he got study advice at Yale Law from John Bolton (trim down your outline sucessively until you have it down to an index card).
Tonight the wife and I will be dining with Justice Thomas and some other folks. Suggestions for respectful questions--i.e. nothing about Coke cans thank you very much--are welcome. I want to probe his thinking and mind and question him, but there is no need to be rude to a guest like this who came here to talk about non-ideological issues.
I see his coming as completely different from Cheney's visit to BYU. First, he is not speaking at our graduation. Second, Thomas is not an elected official. Third, there wasn't a poll of Utah lawyers/law students saying only 44% of them agreed with Justice Thomas' opinions. Fourth, he is one of nine justices on the court, who is not the deciding vote (whereas Cheney is the most powerful VP ever, and gets Bush to do almost everything he wants him to do).
Again, although I disagree with Justice Thomas, I don't plan on being disagreeable.