- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2009

LEXINGTON, Va. | Americans must pay attention to challenges to democracy today just as Abraham Lincoln did by fiercely opposing slavery, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas told a conference on the 16th president’s legacy Friday night.

“We are part of something far greater than ourselves,” Justice Thomas told more than 300 people at Washington and Lee University.

Many in Lincoln’s time didn’t realize the threat that slavery posed to the principles on which the nation was founded, Justice Thomas said.

“What a miserable job he had. He wasn’t popular,” Justice Thomas said, “but he did what was right.”

Justice Thomas received a standing ovation from the audience in Lee Chapel, where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is buried.

He told conference participants he isn’t a Lincoln scholar, but admires him greatly.

“My interest in him has been deeply personal and long-standing,” said Justice Thomas, who grew up in segregated rural Georgia in the 1950s and 1960s. “We thought of him then as the great emancipator.”

Justice Thomas, 61, is the Supreme Court’s second black justice. The first was Thurgood Marshall, whom he succeeded in 1991.

Justice Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia are considered the core of the court’s conservative 5-4 majority.

Safeguarding an interpretation of the Constitution as it was written is vital in his job, he said, and must override personal opinion.

“Stupid things can be constitutional. Misguided things can be constitutional,” Justice Thomas said. “And things with which you agree can be unconstitutional.”

Justice Thomas has been one of the less public members of the court, although his visit to the Shenandoah Valley liberal arts school was his second this year.

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