In a prior post, I noted Jeffrey Toobin’s criticism of Justice Clarence Thomas for Thomas’s claim that since the New Deal, the Supreme Court’s constitutional doctrine has become an ‘unworkable morass of special exceptions and arbitrary applications.’” Interestingly, Toobin never argues that Thomas’s claim is mistaken. Toobin seems to feel that voicing the criticism of the Court is itself worthy of censure, whether or not it is true. But in my view, Thomas’s claim is both true and damning.
In his dissent in the Court’s most recent abortion case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, Justice Thomas offers two basic criticisms of the Court’s tiers of scrutiny jurisprudence: the tiers are not in the Constitution and that they are followed only inconsistently by the Court.
1. The Supreme Court generally employs three tiers of scrutiny: rational basis, intermediate, and strict scrutiny. Thomas first argues that these tiers are not in the Constitution. He claims that the Court has made them up, which Thomas focusing his criticism on the famous case of Carolene Products. Thomas argues that the Court, in a footnote that was “pure dicta,” attempted to justify its special treatment of certain personal liberties like the First Amendment and the right against discrimination on the basis of race.