Christian Values at the Forefront for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (center) is the guest of honor at the 46th annual Pepperdine University School of Law dinner last weekend. He was presented with a “106” jersey—denoting his status as the 106th supreme court justice—by his former law clerk and Pepperdine School of Law graduate Brittney Lane Kubisch (left) and incoming Pepperdine President James Gash.

At the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills last Saturday, more than 1,000 people showed up for Pepperdine University’s 46th Annual School of Law Dinner, a sold-out event featuring a 30-minute appearance by the Supreme Court’s longest-serving justice, Clarence Thomas, 70, who was appointed by President George H. W. Bush in 1991.

Incoming Pepperdine President Jim Gash introduced Thomas to a standing ovation, then introduced Brittney Lane Kubisch (JD ‘12), a Pepperdine Law School graduate and former law clerk to Thomas. The three spent the next 30 minutes on stage together in what was billed as a “conversation.” The talk was kept at a mostly lighthearted level.

Thomas is no stranger to Pepperdine; this marked his third visit to the university since 2009. He is a conservative judge who makes religion a daily part of his life, which is wholly compatible with the values espoused at the school. 

Thomas is also one of the few Supreme Court justices to look beyond the elite Ivy League law schools for his law clerk hires. Pepperdine Law scored a real coup when Thomas hired Pepperdine grad and class valedictorian Kubisch as one of his law clerks in 2017. She was actually the third Pepperdine grad to clerk for a Supreme Court justice—graduate Jack White clerked for Justice Samuel Alito in 2008-9.

When Gash asked Thomas a hypothetical question—who he would like to speak at his retirement party in 20 years—he was taken aback. “I’m not retiring,” he said. 

“How about in 30 years?” Gash asked. Thomas laughed. 

In discussing his law clerks, Thomas admits he works them hard, but also likes to keep them modest. He explained that just outside his office door are four coat hooks with a sign that says, “Hang egos here.”

“We work as a team and do everything by internal email,” Thomas described. “We all copy each other on our emails and we don’t have internal secrets … The clerks leave [their terms] with clean hands, clean hearts and clear consciences.”

“It matters to me that we get young people like Brittney,” Thomas said, “And we’re getting two more clerks from Pepperdine.”

When asked by Gash about his practice of widening his search for law clerks beyond the elite schools, Thomas said, “We’re going to give everybody a chance. The members of the court are all Ivy League and the law clerks tend to reflect that. There are smart kids in a lot of places who are still hungry, still striving, and not entitled. I’ve looked at LSU, Creighton, Taylor, University of Florida, and these kids are tough. I’d pit these students up against anybody … I like kids from modest circumstances who didn’t have the skids greased for them … I need kids who are not jerks.”

Before Thomas spoke, the program included bringing out the current and former deans of Pepperdine Law School, including former U.S. Solicitor General Ken Starr. Other high-profile attendees in the conservative legal community included Sixth Circuit Judge John Nalbandian, a member of the conservative Federalist Society nominated by Trump and narrowly confirmed last year.  

Current Pepperdine President Andrew K. Benton brought out and introduced his successor, Jim Gash, who will be taking over when Benton retires in July. There was a religious song, a performance of the national anthem, an invocation, a color guard and praise for Pepperdine being “an unapologetically Christian” law school.

Brittney said she’d chosen Pepperdine law school after graduating with a 4.0 GPA from Harvard because of its “faith-based, Christian mission.” She claimed that, as a psychology major at Harvard, they told her she would get no higher than a B if she did her proposed “efficacy of prayer” study. 

“I was told that prayer is not science,” she said. “I felt called to be a Christian.”

Thomas was then asked if a judge’s religion should be taken into account during a selection process. “I don’t know a single judge whose religion has caused them to not do their job. They feel it would be a violation of their oath,” he responded.

Thomas, Roman Catholic, said he left his faith in ‘68 but came back to it in ‘93 (not long after the Anita Hill sexual harassment accusations). 

“Faith gives you the strength to do the job the right way, as opposed to thinking you’re the anointed [one],” Thomas said, adding, “If you don’t have humility, your ego can really expand … to a dangerous place.”

“I go to Mass in the morning before work,” he continued. “I think when you start the day on your knees, you approach the job differently than if you think your job is to impose your will on others.” 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story indicated Brittney Lane Kubisch was the second-ever Pepperdine Law graduate to clerk for a US Supreme Court Justice; Kubischh was the third.