There’s a reason Clarence Thomas writes so many solo dissents and concurrences. The second-longest-tenured justice on the Supreme Court has spent more than 25 years staking out a right-wing worldview that can generously be described as idiosyncratic. Thomas’ Constitution is one that gives a president at war the powers of a king while depriving Congress of any meaningful ability to regulate the country. His opposition to the very existence of much of the federal regulatory state, too, has never quite found five votes on the court. No other justice, except perhaps Neil Gorsuch if he continues down his current path, would carry his conservative principles to such an extreme position with regard to presidential authority and congressional constraint.
Now a judge who’s spent his career teetering off the right edge of the federal bench finds himself at the center of the table. Thomas was on hand at the inauguration to swear in Vice President Mike Pence, using the same Bible that Ronald Reagan used when he was sworn in for both of his terms as president. But Thomas is more than just the Trump administration’s philosophical hero. His once-fringy ideas are suddenly flourishing—not only on the high court, through his alliance with Gorsuch, but also in the executive branch.
Donald Trump’s crude understanding of the United States government aligns startlingly well with Thomas’ sophisticated political worldview. The president’s belief that the commander in chief can wage war in whatever way he wishes corresponds neatly to Thomas’ theory of the “unitary executive,” and his visceral hostility to the Affordable Care Act dovetails with Thomas’ abhorrence of the federal social safety net. The two men also share an absolutist opposition to gun control, a belief that the government may favor and promote Christianity over other faiths, a deep skepticism of the elite academic establishment, and a nostalgia for the perceived America of yesteryear. Both take a hard-line stance against illegal immigration and show little concern for the rights of individuals accused of terrorism. Thomas is a thinker and Trump is a feeler, but together they have arrived at similar conclusions. They want less government, a more authoritarian executive, more God, fewer racial entitlements, and more guns.
While Trump may share Thomas’ intuitions, he is far too witless to grasp, let alone implement, the justice’s complex theories of law. And save for the occasional ruling in the administration’s favor, there isn’t much Thomas can do directly to guide the course of Trump’s presidency. Nevertheless, the justice’s fingerprints are all over the executive branch. That’s because he’s trained a small army of acolytes to implement his larger project of shrinking the regulatory state and fighting back against the supposed chokehold of political correctness. (It’s exactly this scourge of “political correctness,” both Trump and Thomas would have you believe, that allowed claims of improper sexual conduct to briefly overshadow their professional accomplishments.)
You can read the rest at Slate.