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U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas told an Atlanta audience Thursday “I am finally home.” “Thirty-two years ago, I tried desperately to come to Atlanta,” Thomas said. Unable to find a job here after graduating from Yale Law School, he took a job in the Missouri attorney general’s office. As a native Georgian, “I had planned to be the 11th Circuit’s justice from the very beginning,” Thomas said at the start of a two-day continuing education seminar on appellate practice in Atlanta. But, he said, “another justice was holding the 11th Circuit hostage.” That other justice was Anthony M. Kennedy, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1988, who was already assigned to the 11th Circuit. Following the confirmation of Justice Samuel Alito earlier this year, Kennedy moved to the Ninth Circuit and Thomas was assigned the 11th Circuit. As the 11th Circuit’s assigned justice, Thomas said he intends to be “quite involved.” A Supreme Court justice is assigned to each federal circuit in the nation. That justice receives applications from the assigned circuit regarding emergency actions�such as stays of execution or extensions for court filings. Thomas fielded wide-ranging questions from members of the appellate bar on subjects as diverse as the aggressiveness of appellate judges, amicus briefs, and cameras at the U.S. Supreme Court. As he had promised after he was introduced, Thomas pulled no punches. On appellate judges’ manners: Thomas said he disapproves of what he calls increasingly aggressive questioning of attorneys by appellate judges from the bench. Thomas said that as a young state attorney general arguing before the Supreme Court of Missouri, he recalled justices who “actually allowed me to make my argument. They listened to what I had to say. � Nor did I ever feel I had not been heard or did not have my day in court.” But Thomas said that kind of old-fashioned court etiquette has virtually disappeared. “It seems fashionable now for judges to be more aggressive in oral arguments,” he said. “I find it unnecessary and distracting. � I truly think oral arguments would be more useful if the justices would listen rather than debating the lawyers. � I think the judges need to listen if the arguments are to be effective.” On his own work habits: “Never do anything unnecessarily to decide a case,” he said. “Do not ask questions that are unnecessary.” That means Thomas is more likely to sit and listen to an oral argument than attempt to question the lawyers who present them. “My job is not to rape your argument, not to make your argument, not to hurt your feelings,” the associate justice said. On threats to an independent judiciary: Thomas said he believes that an independent judiciary is more at risk today. “Some of it is our own doing,” he said. “We’re drifting into areas people have strong feelings about � We’re getting into social issues where I don’t think we should be making decisions.” The abortion issue, Thomas suggested, “has changed the confirmation process and not for the better.” “I don’t think we’re better off,” he said of what have become protracted confirmation hearings. “We don’t have a better court. … We are getting to be political footballs.” On amicus briefs: “They range from useless to extremely useful; from credible to �You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Thomas said. The most helpful, he said, are those filed by “honest brokers � who don’t take either side” or groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union whose legal credibility, Thomas said, is well established. “You know, I’m not one who gloms on to the ACLU’s arguments,” he said. But, he added, “They are pretty principled about the positions they take, and they’re well-informed and pretty helpful.” In contrast, Thomas pointed to a group of historians who filed amici briefs in the Guantanamo detainee cases Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U. S. 507, and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, No. 05-184, whom, he suggested had a clear political agenda. I’m not going to waste my time with that,” he said. On cameras in the courtroom: “I’m not all that enthralled with that idea. I don’t see how it helps us do our job. I think it may distract from us doing our job.” And, he added, if 80 percent of the appellate process is wrapped up in the briefs, “How many of the people watching will know what the case is about if they haven’t read the briefs?” The level of understanding, he suggested, would be “very shallow.” Staff Reporter R. Robin McDonald can be reached at [email protected]

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