- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

LEXINGTON, Va. | Americans today are self-indulgent and don’t make the sacrifices their parents and grandparents did, and the country’s leaders don’t ask people to act for the higher good, says Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

“Our country and our principles are more important than our individual wants,” Justice Thomas told close to 400 people who greeted him with a standing ovation Monday night at Washington and Lee University, a Shenandoah Valley liberal arts school.

He quoted former President John F. Kennedy’s famous, “Ask not what your country can do for you” speech, but said Americans today are more likely to say, “Ask not what you can do for yourselves or your country but what your country can do for you.”

Justice Thomas, 62, took his seat on the court in 1991. He and Justice Antonin Scalia are considered the core of the court’s conservative 5-4 majority.

He endured a grueling confirmation process over allegations that he sexually harassed a former staffer, Anita Hill, who testified during the Senate hearings.

Since then, Justice Thomas has been one of the less public members of the court, though he has made several appearances to promote his 2007 autobiography. He referred to the book, “My Grandfather’s Son,” as he described the obstacles he dealt with growing up in the segregated South in the 1950s and 1960s.

Justice Thomas, the court’s only black justice, spoke with reverence about the priests and nuns who taught him at what had been an all-white Roman Catholic school that he began attending in 1964.

“They were the ones who taught us we were inherently equal,” said Justice Thomas, a Georgia native.

Speaking in Lee Chapel, where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is buried, he told a questioner that Abraham Lincoln was his favorite president.

“We always saw Lincoln as the great emancipator,” Justice Thomas said.

He also told the crowd he declines most invitations but was persuaded to accept the one from Washington and Lee student Robin Wright. He had met her when she was a young child, he said, and had known her mother, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, of Arkansas.

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