If the 74-year-old justice is reaping a bounty, it’s because he’s been planting seeds for decades. In particular, three issues have long motivated [Clarence] Thomas above all others. The first is guns. The second is rights. The third is race.
On guns, Thomas pioneered a robust interpretation of the Second Amendment before it became conservative dogma. As a justice, he first floated the idea that the amendment guarantees a “personal right” (his emphasis) to own firearms in a solo concurrence in 1997. It took 11 years for five justices to adopt that position in District of Columbia v. Heller — at least as applied to guns kept in the home.
Thomas wasn’t satisfied, though. In the years after Heller, he urged the court to take up more gun cases and further expand the amendment’s scope. When the court turned down those cases, Thomas wrote dissent after dissent, castigating his colleagues for treating the Second Amendment as a “constitutional orphan” and a “disfavored right.”
Earlier this year, he finally prevailed. In his majority opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen — probably the most important opinion Thomas has ever written — he extended the right first recognized in Heller beyond the walls of the home, so the Second Amendment now protects individuals who wish to carry concealed handguns in public.
Most significantly, he enshrined originalism as the legal test for analyzing gun-control measures. Rather than looking at contemporary evidence about gun violence, courts must now strike down any gun restriction unless an “analogous” regulation existed centuries ago.
— James Romoser in John Roberts Is the Chief. But It’s Clarence Thomas’s Court.