Thomas Sowell

In one case, Justice Thomas said that if "I were a member of the Texas legislature," he would have voted against the law that the U.S. Supreme Court was examining. But, as a member of that court, his duty was to vote on the constitutionality of the law, whether he agreed with it or not -- and he voted that the law was constitutional.

In another case, he said that the constitution "is not a license for courts to judge the wisdom, fairness, or logic of legislative choices." Again, it is up to the electoral process to do that, not an unelected judiciary.

However, when legislation violates the constitution, Justice Thomas has not hesitated to vote to strike it down, as with so-called "campaign finance reform" in the McCain-Feingold bill or the laws that allowed local politicians to seize private property and turn it over to other private individuals under "eminent domain."

In these and other cases, what mattered was what the constitution said -- and what that meant when it was said. Justice Thomas has therefore refused to read the constitution's ban on an "establishment of religion" as if it meant a "wall of separation" between church and state, requiring the obliteration of religious symbols from public property.

There is no such wall in the constitution, and an "establishment of religion" had a very plain and limited meaning when those words were written -- a coerced support for a government-designated religion. Justice Thomas' opinions often go back into history to show what the constitution's original meaning was.

In response to someone who wanted the Ten Commandments removed from a courthouse, Justice Thomas said: "He need not stop to read it or even look at it, let alone express support for it or adopt the Commandments as guides for his life." There was "no coercion" as there was when there was an establishment of religion.

(Editor's Note: The Keeper of the Flame is now on sale at

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate