Justice Clarence Thomas may speak rarely on the Supreme Court, but he had strong words for the current state of American government Wednesday night.
In an appearance at the Heritage Foundation to celebrate his 25 years on the nation’s highest court, Thomas called the city of Washington, D.C. “broken in some ways” and suggested that public trust in the federal government had declined.
“At some point, we are going to have to recognize that we are destroying our institutions,” he said, acknowledging that the Court might also partially be at fault. “What have we done to gain their confidence?" he asked, according to a USA Today report. “Perhaps we should ask ourselves what we have done to not earn it or to earn it."
The Supreme Court has become one of the central issues in the 2016 presidential election since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year left a seat vacant on the nine-member court. The court is currently evenly split, 4-4, between liberal and conservative justices.
Thomas did not directly reference the vacancy or the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, who Senate Republicans have refused to consider. Instead, the justice reflected on his friendship with Scalia and how, despite their very different upbringings, they agreed ideologically on major issues.
"He was from the north, and I was from the south, but we wound up at the same place," he said, according to USA Today. Even the things they disagreed on — like hunting and opera — did not weaken his trust with Scalia, he said.
"He did the small, he did the big, he cared about it all,” Thomas said. “That teaches you a lesson — that it all matters."
Some Senate Republicans have suggested that if Hillary Clinton is elected president in November, they will continue to block any nominees she puts forth. Sen. John McCain of Arizona said earlier this month that Republicans in the chamber would “be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said Wednesday that “there is long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices.”
“Just recently Justice [Stephen] Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job,” Cruz told reporters. “That’s a debate that we are going to have.”