Clarence Thomas Decries Partisanship at Judicial Confirmation Hearings: We Need Less ‘Spartacus’

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas argued last week that the wrong values have been propagated during high court confirmations, saying the United States needs "people who actually ask the questions at confirmation hearings, instead of Spartacus."

"How many people can you use, in leadership positions today, the word that I used about Brett [Kavanaugh]: honorable," Thomas said during a Federalist Society event on Sept. 8. "Honorable. Not the honorable. Honorable. If we can use that word about more people who are in public life … think about the difference it'll make. Then, you'll have a legacy. We will have left the country in better shape, morally, structurally than we found it."

Thomas' "Spartacus" remark was a reference to Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.), who during Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing announced he would release committee documents he said were confidential. Booker repeatedly said he would do so despite the possibility he could be expelled from the Senate, but the documents had in fact been cleared for public release the night before.

Booker said during the hearing, "This is about the closest I'll probably have in my life to an ‘I am Spartacus' moment."

Thomas was speaking with Leonard Leo, the president of the Federalist Society, at an event for members in Fort Worth, Texas, when he was asked to reflect on the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.

"But as long as we're looking at our interests, or scoring points, or looking cute, or being on T.V., especially the legal system, how do we maintain it? If you can't debate hard issues honestly, with honor, with integrity, how do we keep a civil society?"

Thomas is not the only Supreme Court justice to speak out against the partisanship on display at the Kavanaugh hearings. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was appointed by a Senate vote of 96-3 in 1993, said Wednesday the way the confirmation hearings are going is "not right."

"I wish I could wave a magic wand and have it go back the way it was," she told a group at George Washington University.

A number of Senate Republicans also raised concerns about Booker's actions during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Sen. John Cornyn (R., Tex.) responded in the moment to Booker, who is considered a likely 2020 presidential candidate, telling him, "Running for president is no excuse for violating the rules of the Senate."

A full Senate vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation is expected later this month.