Justice Clarence Thomas: A Legacy of Citizenship and Duty

Commentary In 2016, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the commencement address to graduates at Hillsdale College in Michigan. While many speakers use commencement addresses to boost graduates’ confidence with lofty platitudes about following one’s dreams or believing in one’s potential, Justice Thomas chose to go a different route. He spoke not about what the world has to offer to young people, but instead what they ought to offer the world. He emphasized to the graduates that as they entered the public square, they must be aware of what it means to be an American citizen. Citizenship, he told them, is a duty—not a privilege. Justice Thomas asserted that in keeping with a long philosophical tradition, the reverse side of freedom is responsibility; there’s a vital relationship between the liberty of a thriving constitutional republic and the day-to-day sacrifice of individual citizens. In his view, liberty comes with deep and …

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