A leading judge President Trump considered nominating to the Supreme Court last year is praising Justice Clarence Thomas' disagreements with Justice Antonin Scalia for strengthening the "legitimacy" of originalist philosophy.
Federal appeals court Judge William Pryor, who Trump included on his Supreme Court short lists, wrote a Yale Law Journal article in which he highlighted Thomas' contribution to the law through his clashes with Scalia. Pryor lauded Scalia's "scholarly output, outsized personality, and zealous advocacy on behalf of originalism," but added, "if Justice Scalia bore significant responsibility for advancing the popular understanding of originalism, then Justice Thomas deserves singular credit for strengthening the case for its legitimacy."
Thomas deserves recognition for legitimizing originalism for two reasons, the 11th Circuit judge wrote. First, Thomas' originalist voice, alongside Scalia's, made it "impossible for lawyers and judges to ignore originalist arguments." Secondly, Thomas propelled originalism through conflict with Scalia.
"By disagreeing with Justice Scalia on originalist grounds, Justice Thomas has made clear that originalism is not a political tool for reaching 'conservative' results," Pryor wrote. "Although no methodology is immune from abuse, Justice Thomas's opinions have established that the advantage of originalism is not that it provides a foolproof method for arriving at uniform results, but that it offers neutral principles suitable for a judiciary in a democratic republic with separated powers. By engaging in debates with Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas has focused our attention on the neutral materials in law — text and history — and weakened the criticism that originalism is results oriented."
Thomas' work has served to help provide "discipline" to legal debates, Pryor wrote for the Yale Law Journal's newly released collection of essays commemorating the 25th anniversary of Thomas' appointment to the Supreme Court. Thomas received his law degree from Yale in 1974.
Ultimately, Pryor said he thinks that Thomas did something to advance the philosophy of originalism that no other jurist had the capability of doing.
"By leading, joining and occasionally challenging Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas, over the last quarter of a century, has accomplished what no originalist by himself could: through principled adjudication, proving that the legitimacy of originalism can be an objective methodology for adjudication," Pryor wrote. "His contributions have increased respect for originalism exponentially and made its vocabulary a staple of constitutional adjudication. And for those contributions, all originalists owe him a debt of gratitude."