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Looking Back On Justice Clarence Thomas’ 32 Years on the Supreme Court

OCTOBER 23, 2023

Tracy Adair, [email protected] 

Today marks 32 years since Clarence Thomas began his tenure on the Supreme Court, significantly reshaping Americans’ rights and freedoms for a generation. Justice Thomas has used the bench to advance his far-right conservative agenda, chip away at our freedoms and favor the rich and powerful, like his friend Harlan Crow, over everyday people.

SCOTUS reform advocates are pushing Congress to pass the TERM Act (H.R.5566), which will enact 18-year term limits on the Supreme Court Justices to ensure no Justice can cling onto power indefinitely. Justice Thomas would be the first member of the bench to be term-limited out under this legislation.

No other modern constitutional democracy in the world allows its high-court justices to serve without term or age limits, and 49 of 50 American states impose term limits, elections, or mandatory retirement ages on their highest courts.

It’s clear looking at Justice Thomas’ long history the tremendous difference term limits would have made to protect our freedoms and our democracy.

Here’s a look back at some lowlights from Thomas’ time on the bench:

Justice Thomas’ harmful impact on our democracy is best illustrated by two pivotal cases: Bush v. Gore (2000) and Citizens United v. FEC (2010). In arguably the Supreme Court’s most controversial decision, Bush v. Gore, Thomas joined the majority to stop the Florida recount, effectively securing the presidency for George W. Bush. The decision, still cited as valid precedent in hundreds of federal and state cases, undermines the fundamental principle that every vote counts, and disregards the will of the people. Citizens United v. FEC takes this disregard to the extreme, opening the floodgates to wealthy donors, corporations, and the affluent few to influence our elections and our politics.

Clarence Thomas’ decisions in pivotal voting rights cases beg the question: Is he concerned about the freedom to vote for all Americans, or only protecting conservative politicians? Shelby County v. Holder (2013) and Rucho v. Common Cause (2019) drastically undermined voter access and representation for voters of color. Both cases were closely decided in a 5-4 vote. Shelby County set off a wave of voter suppression laws aimed to disenfranchise voters of color, while Rucho effectively declared partisan gerrymandering legal, providing state legislatures a green light to draw their own district maps that most benefits themselves and far-right candidates. These two decisions dramatically rolled back the freedom of voters to choose their leaders or make their voices heard in our elections.

Thomas also helped upend our fundamental freedoms like our reproductive freedom, our ability to seek justice in federal court, and the safety of our communities. United States v. Morrison declared parts of the Violence Against Women Act unconstitutional, removing the ability for survivors of gender-motivated violence to sue their attackers in federal court. District of Columbia v. Heller read an individual right to bear arms into the Second Amendment for the first time in our history, making guns more accessible in a country that exceeded 500 mass shootings this year alone. Finally, the Court’s devastating blow to reproductive freedom in last year’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization left confusion and fear in its wake. It should come as no surprise that Justice Thomas’ votes in each of these cases failed to protect voters’ fundamental freedoms.

Many of the cases described above came down to a 5-4 vote. We can only imagine what the outcomes of some of the more recent cases would have been – in those cases and for our country – if Justice Thomas had been term-limited. This term, Thomas will likely once again undermine our freedoms and democracy. That’s why Stand Up America’s two million members are calling on Congress to pass the TERM Act.

Stand Up America is a leading advocate for Supreme Court reforms, including term limits. Our nearly two million members nationwide have driven over 11,000 calls and sent over 570,000 emails from constituents to legislators in support of SCOTUS reform.


About Stand Up America
Stand Up America is a progressive advocacy organization with nearly two million community members across the country. Focused on grassroots advocacy to stand up to corruption and voter suppression and build a more representative democracy, Stand Up America has driven over 1.7 million calls to lawmakers, registered over 100,000 voters, mobilized thousands of protestors, and contacted tens of millions of voters.

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