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Clarence Thomas takes hard line on defendants

Publication Date: 
June 13, 2011
USA Today
Joan Biskupic

Professor Jeffrey Fisher is quoted in the below USA Today article by Joan Biskupic on the tough-love approach Justice Clarence Thomas has taken with defendants in criminal proceedings.

Twenty years ago, when a senator asked then-appellate Judge Clarence Thomas why he wanted to be on the Supreme Court, Thomas said he often looked out his courthouse window at arriving prisoners and said to himself, "But for the grace of God, there go I."

During his confirmation hearing, Thomas explained that he would identify with defendants: "So I can walk in their shoes and I could bring something different to the court."

It is now clear that to Thomas, those remarks did not mean he necessarily would empathize with defendants. During two decades as the court's most consistent conservative, he has taken a tough approach to criminal defendants' cases, showing a disdain for hard-luck tales of bad childhoods and a conviction that defendants accept responsibility.


"When he steps in the shoes of people," says Stanford University law professor Jeffrey Fisher, "he's more likely to say tough-love is necessary and you have to take responsibility."