Episode #40: Clarence Thomas and the Lost Constitution with Myron Magnet

Peter Wood

When Clarence Thomas joined the Supreme Court in 1991, he found many on the Court were interpreting a different Constitution than the one the Framers wrote. That’s the thesis of Clarence Thomas and the Lost Constitution, an excellent new book by Myron Magnet.

Magnet joins me on Curriculum Vitae to discuss Thomas’s biography and the history of the US Constitution. Along the way, we talk about higher education’s role in forming citizens who are capable of keeping the American republic.

You can buy the book online here, and read my review of it here.

Show Notes

0:00 Peter introduces Myron Magnet and his book, Clarence Thomas and the Lost Constitution.

2:12 Some of Thomas’s most important education occurred outside of college. How about for Myron Magnet?

7:15 Myron says “one of the luckiest things that happened to me” was not getting an academic career.

7:56 Myron talks about Thomas’s childhood in poverty and segregation, and how his grandfather raised him to work hard and become self-reliant.

13:09 Thomas went through a radical phase in college.

17:01 While chairman of the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission, Thomas hired two political philosophers and studied the Constitution.

21:30 Myron and Peter digress on the New York Times’ 1619 Project. Was the real founding of America based on the idea of slavery?

30:36 “Who Killed the Constitution?” is one chapter in Myron’s book. He explains how the Supreme Court shifted from interpreting the Constitution to “making stuff up,” as Peter says.

33:10 Stare decisis: what does it mean, and how has it affected the Constitution?

41:06 The rise of the administrative state and the decline of the rule of law also twisted the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. Myron especially blames Woodrow Wilson.

47:36 Myron calls Thomas “the most consequential jurist of our era.”

48:53 “The dissent won the day.” Thomas often writes lone dissents – but he takes inspiration from Justice John Marshall Harlan, who wrote the lone dissent in Plessy V. Ferguson, standing alone in his objection to racial segregation.

55:20 Myron says Justice Thomas is “an unusually free man.”

56:46 Peter brings up the 1978 Bakke decision, in which the Supreme Court jimmied the principle of “diversity” into the Constitution. What does Justice Thomas think of this?

1:01:26 The Founders knew the Republic wasn’t a sure thing – it depended on citizens of a certain character. Peter and Myron discuss higher education’s role in forming these citizens.


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