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Clarence Thomas says Roe v. Wade wasn’t a focal issue for him as he went through law school and launched his legal career: ‘My life was consumed by survival’

Supreme Justice Clarence Thomas.

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  • Clarence Thomas in a new book said he wasn’t focused on abortion issues during his early career.
  • “They think we all should have been concerned about this one issue,” he told “Created Equal” co-editor Michael Pack.
  • Thomas was part of the 5-4 Supreme Court majority that voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in a newly-released book said that he “hadn’t really thought about” Roe v. Wade during his early legal years, while delivering a broadside against critics who demanded to know his stance on abortion rights after his nomination to the high court in 1991.

In the book, “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words,” co-edited by Michael Pack and Mark Paoletta, the conservative jurist sat down with Pack for over 30 hours between November 2017 and March 2018, in what became an expanded companion to the 2020 documentary of the same name.

During the interview, Thomas spoke of the opposition that he faced from many Democrats and Democratic-aligned groups during his contentious confirmation hearings. In the discussion, he clearly stated that Roe v. Wade — the 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the United States and afforded a constitutional right to the procedure — was not something that he thought much about in law school and as he progressed in his law career.

However, he was acutely aware that abortion was “central” to much of the criticism leveled at him after he was nominated by Republican President George H.W. Bush to replace Thurgood Marshall, the revered civil-rights icon.

“It was certainly the key to the opposition from many of the women’s groups,” he told Pack. “I just thought it was ironic that in my whole life, through all the years of preparation, and coming through Georgia, and all the challenges, that of all the things that they’ve reduced it to was something that wasn’t even an issue in your life.”

He continued: “What I realized, and should have realized more fully, is that you really didn’t matter and your life didn’t matter. What mattered was what they wanted, and what they wanted was this particular issue.”

Thomas then said that during his studies at Yale Law School and his early legal career, cases surrounding privacy issues were not his area of focus, dismissing the notion that he should have been attuned to abortion.

He rejected Democratic attempts to pin him down on abortion during his confirmation hearings, telling Pack during the interview that he “didn’t know” how he would rule on the subject.

“I hadn’t read those cases about privacy, and I hadn’t thought much about substantive due process since law school,” he said during the interview. “I had constitutional law in 1972; Roe was decided in 1973.”

He added: “I was more interested in the race issues. I was more interested in getting out of law school. I was more interested in passing the bar exam. My life was consumed by survival. I couldn’t pay my rent. I couldn’t repay my student loans. I had all these other things going on, that you were navigating, these worlds you’re navigating.”

Thomas during the interview reiterated that abortion wasn’t his area of focus in the years leading up to his Supreme Court nomination.

“They think we all should have been concerned about this one issue,” he said of Democrats. “I hadn’t really thought about it. I thought about it generally but not in the sense that I had read Roe or re-read Griswold. This wasn’t my issue.”

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled 6-3 to uphold a Mississippi abortion ban, while voting 5-4 to overturn Roe v. Wade. Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the majority in the Mississippi case, but watched his fellow conservative jurists overturn nearly 50 years of precedent in overturning Roe, who were unconvinced by his incremental approach to the issue.

The decision over abortion rights now rests with the states; 13 states had “trigger laws” in place that effectively banned abortion procedures immediately after the court overturned Roe.

Thomas in his concurring opinion wrote that the court should “reconsider” prior rulings on contraception, same-sex relationships, and same-sex marriage — a departure from his other conservative colleagues — to make the case that cases involving the 14th Amendment’s due process clause needed to be reviewed.

“For that reason, in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” he said.

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