Conservative Justices Are Increasingly Having to Defend the Supreme Court

Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas has become the latest member of the court to defend it publicly following a controversial decision on a Texas abortion law.

Thomas, who is part of the court's conservative majority, delivered a lecture at the University of Notre Dame on Thursday, in which he warned against "destroying our institutions."

Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, another conservative, also defended the Supreme Court in a speech on Sunday, saying the justices were not "a bunch of partisan hacks."

During his lecture on Thursday, Thomas warned against judges weighing in on issues that are better left to other branches of government.

"When we begin to venture into the legislative or executive branch lanes, those of us, particularly in the federal judiciary with lifetime appointments, are asking for trouble," he said.

Thomas said the problem had come to affect the process of nominating and confirming justices.

"I think that is problematic and hence the craziness during my confirmation was one of the results of that," he said, adding: "It was absolutely about abortion—a matter I had not thought deeply about at the time."

Thomas didn't address the issue of court packing directly, but offered a defense of the court more broadly.

"I think we should be careful destroying our institutions because they don't give us what we want when we want it," Thomas said. "I think we should be really, really careful."

Barrett spoke alongside Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Sunday at an event marking the 30th anniversary of the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville.

"My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks," Barrett said.

"Judicial philosophies are not the same as political parties," she said, pointing to the fact she is an "originalist" and that Associate Justice Stephen Breyer is a "pragmatist."

She also referred to decisions where the justices didn't vote along what could be considered party lines.

"The media, along with hot takes on Twitter, report the results and decisions," Barrett said. "That makes the decision seem results-oriented. It leaves the reader to judge whether the court was right or wrong, based on whether she liked the results of the decision.

"And here's the thing: Sometimes, I don't like the results of my decisions. But it's not my job to decide cases based on the outcome I want."

Controversial Texas Law

Both Barrett and Thomas were part of the five-justice majority that declined to grant a stay of a Texas law that effectively bans all abortions in the state after around six weeks of pregnancy.

Breyer, the court's most senior liberal, has also recently defended the institution amid calls from progressives for him to retire and allow President Joe Biden to choose his successor while Democrats control the Senate. He has warned against attempts by liberals to change the nature of the court.

"What goes around comes around," Breyer told NPR on September 10. "And if the Democrats can do it, the Republicans can do it."

Update 9/17/21 6:22 a.m. ET: This article was updated to add a new photo.

Photo Composite Shows Justices Thomas and Barrett
This composite photo shows Associate Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Clarence Thomas. Both conservative justices have recently defended the Supreme Court. Getty