Bio: Born in Montana; U. of Montana law school. Private practitioner in Billings; judge on 9th Circuit since 1995. Married to lawyer Martha Sheehy.
If picked: Only non-Ivy Leaguer on Court. First bearded justice since Scalia sported one in 1996. Collegial; friends compare him to Stevens.
Ninth Circuit Judge Sidney Thomas is a liberal on a circuit court that is viewed, rightly or wrongly, as ultra-liberal. So how did he end up on President Obama’s short list of possible replacements for Justice John Paul Stevens, given that Obama might not want or win a fight for a openly liberal nominee?
The answer may be as simple as a nod to Sen. Max Baucus, (D-Mont.), who backed Thomas for the circuit seat he was named to in 1995. Baucus has said Thomas would be a great addition to the high court. Thomas may also have earned the spot on the short list on his own, with a record and a personality that has won him “friends on both sides of the aisle,” in the words of Montana’s chief U.S. district judge, Richard Cebull, in comments to the Billings Gazette.
Thomas’ University of Montana Law School degree also fits the currently fashionable bill of not having Harvard or Yale law school ties. He would be the only non-coastal westerner on the Court. Thomas has chambers in Billings.
“He may be physically in Montana, but he’s jurisprudentially in Reinhardt-istan,” said conservative commentator M. Edward Whelan III, speaking of Thomas and referring to liberal 9th Circuit judge Stephen Reinhardt.
One recent ruling in which Thomas wrote a sharply worded dissent was Bull v. San Francisco. The en banc majority upheld San Francisco’s policy calling for strip searches of all arrestees entering the county jails, but Thomas objected.
“The majority sweeps away twenty-five years of jurisprudence, giving jailors the unfettered right to conduct mandatory, routine, suspicionless body cavity searches on any citizen who may be arrested for minor offenses,” Thomas wrote in dissent. “”The rationale for this abrupt precedential departure is founded on quicksand… Rather than bringing competing interests into equilibrium, today’s decision removes the balancing scales altogether — to the detriment of constitutional rights and human dignity.”
Writing for the majority, Judge Sandra Ikuta said Thomas’ dissent “draws upon unproven allegations to give a shocking and inflammatory account … Although the dissent’s dramatic accounts stir the emotions, they are misleading and ultimately irrelevant to the case before us.”