WASHINGTON -- Justice Clarence Thomas has made no secret of his dislike of past Supreme Court decisions written by other justices, including seminal opinions about abortion rights, press freedoms and a defendant's right to a lawyer.
On Monday, the 71-year-old justice turned inward, focusing his criticism on himself — a court opinion he wrote in 2005 defending the power of federal administrative agencies.
In the case, known as Brand X, the court sided with the Federal Communications Commission's decision not to regulate broadband cable providers, rejecting a federal appeals court ruling that would have required regulation.
“Although I authored Brand X, ‘it is never too late to surrender former views to a better considered position,''' Thomas wrote, borrowing language from Justice Robert Jackson in 1950. Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion Monday when the court declined to take on a case asking it to overrule the Brand X decision.
Thomas' evolving views about federal agencies is part of a growing conservative movement to rein in the powers of the bureaucracy. Advocates for regulation of business practices across a wide swath of the American economy worry that if conservatives succeed in rolling back court decisions like Brand X, it could be much harder to sustain governmental regulations.
The leading Supreme Court decision in this area is Chevron v. NRDC, a 1984 ruling that says when Congress leaves the details of laws vague, courts should rely on federal agencies to fill in the gaps. The opinion by Justice John Paul Stevens has been cited more than 15,000 times.
Thomas is among several conservative justices who have questioned the decision's validity. “Chevron compels judges to abdicate the judicial power without constitutional sanction," he wrote on Monday.
“Brand X takes on the constitutional deficiencies of Chevron and exacerbates them,” he added.
In the past year alone, Thomas has advocated overruling Roe v. Wade, the court's landmark abortion rights decision; New York Times v. Sullivan, its defense of press freedom; and Gideon v. Wainwright, guaranteeing a lawyer to indigent defendants.