Civics: ‘I wonder how long we’re going to have these institutions at the rate we’re undermining them, and then I wonder when they’re gone or destabilized what we will have as a country and I don’t think the prospects are good if we continue to lose them.’

Josh Gerstein:

Justice Clarence Thomas, the longest-serving sitting member of the Supreme Court, declared Friday that the publication of a draft majority opinion on abortion has permanently damaged trust within the nation’s highest court and is a symptom of a broader decline in America’s institutions.

When you lose that trust, especially in the institution that I’m in, it changes the institution fundamentally. You begin to look over your shoulder,” Thomas said. “It’s kind of like infidelity that you can explain it, but you can’t undo it.”

“If someone said that one line of one opinion would be leaked by anyone … you would say: ‘That’s impossible. No one would ever do that,’” the justice said. “That was verboten. It was beyond anyone’s understanding or at least anyone’s imagination.”

Speaking at the Old Parkland Conference, Thomas did not criticize any of his colleagues by name, but he indicated that the atmosphere on the court now is different than it was a few years ago.

“This is not the court of that era,” said Thomas, who was confirmed in 1991. “I sat with Ruth Ginsburg for almost 30 years and she was actually an easy colleague to deal with. … We may have been a dysfunctional family, but we were a family.”

At times, Thomas seemed to suggest that a fellow justice or law clerk might be responsible for the disclosure.

“Anybody who would, for example, have an attitude to leak documents, that is your general attitude, that is your future on the bench,” he said.

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