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Justice Thomas: Black president 'approved by the elites, media'

The famously taciturn Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the only current black member of the court, said he is not surprised there's a black president. But he knew that it would be one "approved by the elites, the media."

"I guess I thought there would be black coaches, black heads of universities, maybe again, as I said, I'm naïve. But the thing I always knew it would have to be a black president who was approved by the elites, the media, because anybody they didn't agree with they would take apart," Thomas said during an hour-long forum at Duquesne University's law school in response to a moderator's question of whether he was surprised that the was a black president. 

"And that will happen with virtually-- you pick your person. Any black person, who says something that is not a prescribed things that they expect from a black person, it will be picked apart. You can pick anybody. Don't pick me. Pick anyone who has decided not to go along with it. There's a price to pay. So I always assumed it would be somebody the media had to agree with."

(The forum, held last month, April 9th, at Duquesne and aired on C-SPAN, is only now getting attention, as it was picked up Friday by liberal outlet Mother Jones and Thursday by conservative outlet Fox Nation.)

Thomas was asked about his relationship with President Barack Obama, the first black president, but Thomas said there wasn't much more to it than having met him and shook hands -- he said he had been "very polite." The reason for the lack of a relationship, he said, is obvious -- Thomas just doesn't like politics.

Thomas famously landed in political controversy more than 20 years ago during his confirmation hearings when Congress heard allegations of sexual harassment leveled by Anita Hill, a law professor who had previously worked for Thomas.

Asked if he had any "common ground" with the left-of-center president, the conservative jurist, said, "You know that's hard to say. It's like, what common ground did I have with President Bush? 43? You know, I'm not into politics. I don't like politics. And I try not to--, I do my job. I have common ground with some of the appointees, say with Justice Ginsburg or with Justice Kagan, because we're doing the same thing, but as politics, I just don't do politics. I don't like politics."

Pressed by moderator Thomas M. Hardiman, a justice on the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, on whether he, like other judges, doesn't follow the news as closely as he perhaps did when he was an attorney, Thomas again reiterated the he just doesn't like politics and invoked something else for comparison that he's not fond of -- scuba diving.

"I just don't like politics," he said to laughter from the audience. "I mean, it is--, I'm just done. I don't like politics. I like history. I like things of substance. I don't understand politics. I don't understand scuba diving, you know? When I think of scuba diving, I think of drowning. So I'm not against it, it's just not--, I'm not going under water."

Below is a transcript of the section relating to President Obama and politics (scroll to 41:56 of the video).

KEN GORMLEY, Duquesne Law School Dean: Did you ever think you would see an African American president in your lifetime?

THOMAS: Oh yeah, I'm, I guess I thought there would be black coaches, black heads of universities, maybe again, as I said, I'm naïve. But the thing I always knew it would have to be a black president who was approved by the elites, the media, because anybody they didn't agree with they would take apart. 

And that will happen with virtually- you pick your person. Any black person, who says something that is not a prescribed things that they expect from a black person, it will be picked apart. You can pick anybody. Don't pick me. Pick anyone who has decided not to go along with it. There's a price to pay. So I always assumed it would be somebody the media had to agree with.

HARDIMAN: Have you met President Obama, have you had a chance to speak with him?
THOMAS: Well in passing more. I mean, he visited the court. It's not like--, I don't do a lot of Washington--, I'm not a politician, I'm not into politics. So there's not that many occasions. I shook hands with him at the inauguration. He was very polite. But no, I've had no in-depth conversations with him.

HARDIMAN: Was that a courtesy visit he was paying to all the justices--?  

THOMAS: Yes

HARDIMAN: --or you in particular

THOMAS: All the members of the court.

HARDIMAN: Is that typical of U.S. presidents to do that?

THOMAS: President Clinton did it. He's as personable a person--, you know, we were at Yale together, so I kind of knew him a little bit better, but it is, yes, in recent years, it is. They stop by-the president-elect and shake hands with members of the court and meet us as a group.

HARDIMAN: You and President Obama have a lot of different opinions on things. Do you have any common ground on things with him that you could share with us? 

THOMAS: [Long pause, laughter in the crowd.] You know, I have-

HARDIMAN: You want to take the 5th? That's ok? [crowd laughs]

THOMAS: We're in a different--, you know that's hard to say, it's like what common ground did I have with President Bush? 43? You know, I'm not into politics. I don't like politics. And I try not to--, I do my job. I have common ground with some of the appointees, say with Justice Ginsburg or with Justice Kagan, because we're doing the same thing, but as politics, I just don't do politics. I don't like politics, so the uh-

HARDIMAN: Do you eschew it intentionally in terms of media and things like that because that's one thing I've found is that a lot of judges just don't keep up with the news the way they did when they were practicing law. 

THOMAS: I just don't like politics. [laughter]. I mean, it is, I'm just done. I don't like politics. I like history. I like things of substance. I don't understand politics. I don't understand scuba diving, you know? When I think of scuba diving, I think of drowning. So I'm not against it, it's just not--, I'm not going under water.