J. Reuben Clark Law Society

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas Featured Founders Day Dinner Speaker, Urges Faith and Humility

On Tuesday, October 20, 2015, more than 1,000 guests gathered at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah for the BYU Law School’s Annual Founders Day Dinner. Justice Clarence Thomas of the United States Supreme Court was introduced as the featured speaker by his recent law clerk, Robert Stander. Because of his close association with Justice Thomas, Stander was able to paint a vivid picture of Justice Thomas as a family man, a patriot, a man of faith, a man who cares about people—from the lowest janitor to the highest paid employee.


The format of the evening was a conversation between Justice Thomas and Associate Chief Justice Thomas Rex Lee of the Utah Supreme Court, who is also a former clerk of Justice Thomas. They began by acknowledging the values Justice Thomas lives by, and that his values came from his upbringing in the segregated South. Although he and his family lived among “the help”, his neighborhood growing up was a cocoon, a distraction from worldliness where values—what Justice Thomas referred to as “the intangibles”—were transmitted. He credited his family, particularly his grandparents, and the nuns as profoundly influencing him.


In fact, Justice Thomas advocated faith as the sine qua non of living life in a meaningful way. He spoke of the inner sense of smallness that “it” is not about us. Justice Thomas recognizes faith as a way to process imponderables that we cannot explain: pain, disappointment, hurt, confusion. For him, and he acknowledged that for many of us, faith has been a way to do that. Faith is the compass to encourage him to live the right way with the right motivation.


He spoke of a time when his life was not guided by faith and he found himself in questionable situations. But the Lord gave him opportunities to turn his focus around and he found himself praying, “Lord, give me the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do it.”  Now he lets other people worry about whether they’re going to be offended by him living by faith. Justice Thomas encouraged attendees to consider his current favorite personal prayer to ask for the wisdom to work within our role with a sense of modesty, humility, and without scheme, anger or bitterness.


When asked about his interactions with his fellow justices, Justice Thomas said he found the wisdom of Chief Justice Rehnquist and White to be exemplary: that persuasion doesn’t take place in conference but rather when the draft opinions are circulated. Justice Thomas also never joins an opinion as a way to get along with people. When he finds himself in the position of a dissenting opinion, he tries to offer another way of looking at the situation—to plant a seed by setting out an alternative argument. He emphasized that tone matters and that we ought not create impediments by being obstinate. Rather, focus on constructive and useful arguments and when we talk about serious things we should talk about them seriously, not dismissively or glibly.


The Founders Day Dinner is an annual gathering hosted by the BYU Law School to recognize the tremendous achievements of its graduates. Included on the program was the presentation of the 2015 Alumni Achievement Award to Monte N. Stewart because of his tremendous efforts to be a force for good, whether as United States Attorney for Nevada or Special Assistant Attorney General and Counsel to the Governor of Utah, or as the founding present of the Marriage Law Foundation. Professor David H. Moore was recognized as the 2015 Teacher of the Year, an award decided by an election process among recent BYU Law graduates. Also in attendance were Elders D. Todd Christofferson and Quentin L. Cook of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and numerous prominent judges.


By Danielle Dallas, Media Committee

Posted: November 16, 2015