by Jim Cathcart
Last night I had the privilege of attending “A Conversation” with Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas. The event was held at Pepperdine University and was what the School of Law calls “The Second Annual William French Smith Memorial Lecture.”
The Dean of the School of Law is Kenneth W. Starr, a delightful and brilliant man whom I’ve come to know in the past few years since he accepted the appointment here. He has been a guest at my Sherwood Parlor Salon Discussion and Paula and I enjoy spending time with Ken and Alice Starr.
Yesterday’s event was inspiring on many levels. Justice Thomas spoke candidly about how he makes decisions, who he admires, what his daily life is like, where he grew up, how he has dealt with prejudice and injustice in his own life, his own Christian Faith and more. He truly open the robes and showed us who he was.
The surprizing thing is we discovered that he is not only brilliant, he’s also funny!
His humor and playfulness made it clear to all that he was happy to be there, in a great mood and having a good time.
He told us that one way in which he indoctrinates his new law clerks is to have them watch movies with him. Some of his favorites for this purpose are: Fountainhead, 300, Gods & Generals, and Saving Private Ryan. He singled out one special quote from Saving Private Ryan. After all the lives had been lost in effecting Ryan’s rescue, one of his rescuers said to him, “Earn it.” In other words, conduct your life in such a way that all this sacrifice is justified. Earn the salvation you’ve received.
He also said to us, “My law clerks are here to help me live up to my Oath. That is their job description.” I love that! The job is not the collection of tasks, it is the reason the tasks matter.
More people need to adopt that attitude, in my opinion. Job descriptions needn’t be mere lists of tasks, but rather should be statements of purpose. “Here is why your work is worthy of being paid for and here are the areas of your responsibility.” That gives people a better understanding of their real job, not just their duties.
After the conversation the Justice came over to the side of the room where Paula and I had the privilege of sitting on the front row and he greeted us individually. When he shook my hand he noticed my Speaker Hall of Fame ring and commented on it. He was truly connecting with people not merely greeting them in a token manner. An impressive fellow for sure.
Justice Thomas said that he studies the history and circumstances that existed when the Constitution and its related documents were written. He does this so that he captures, as much as possible, the original intent, instead of imposing his own opinion into the interpretation.
That, I believe, is why we need to teach American History and the foundation of our nation to all generations in perpetuity. The only way to preserve America is to teach each new generation not just what it is, but also why it exists and how unique that is in the history of the world.
Thank God for people with the character and humility of Justice Thomas.
To obtain a copy of his book “My Grandfather’s Son”, click here. I bought one yesterday and find it easy reading (with lawyers that is a major consideration) and a great insight into the making of a remarkable leader.