Supreme Court Justice Thomas favors conservative leaning briefs

Justice Clarence Thomas. Photo from U.S. Supreme Court

Majority U.S. Supreme Court opinions written by Justice Clarence Thomas contain language from legal briefs at an unusually high rate, according to a recent study.

And in relying on language from briefs, Thomas favors those submitted by conservative groups, the study found. He was the only modern justice with such a striking ideological overlap.

"Since he is often touted as a staunch conservative justice, his preference towards conservative briefs may not be surprising," attorney and doctoral student Adam Feldman wrote of Thomas, who was nominated to the bench by former president George H. W. Bush. "Still, other justices whose votes on the merits are strongly associated with their ideological preferences do not fit this pattern."

Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker, far left, discusses an Indian Child Welfare Act case that went before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. Dusten Brown, in sunglasses, was forced to give up his daughter after the justices ruled against him. Photo from National Congress of American Indians / Flickr

Feldman's study was based on an analysis of language only in majority opinions. Thomas has not written a majority opinion in an Indian law case since 2009 but it was a big one -- Carcieri v. Salazar, which threw a major wrench in the land-into-trust process at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Thomas, however, has authored a number of hair-raising dissents in other Indian law disputes like Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, an Indian Child Welfare Act case, and US v. White Mountain Apache, a fiduciary trust cases. Tribal advocates have repeatedly called attention to his negative views tribes and their governments.

Get the Story:
Clarence Thomas, a Supreme Court Justice of Few Words, Some Not His Own (The New York Times 8/28)

Get the Study:
A Brief Assessment of Supreme Court Opinion Language (March 2015)

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