LINCOLN, Neb. -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said the nation's highest court would benefit from more geographic diversity among its justices and should hold some sessions outside of Washington.
Thomas' comments came in a speech to University of Nebraska-Lincoln law students Thursday and were reported by the Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/pGwsqS). Thomas, a Georgia native who has worked in Washington since 1993, said the court would benefit from a more balanced geographical mix that "reflects the fact this is a big country, not just the Northeast."
"There's nobody from the Heartland," said Thomas, who visits Nebraska periodically because his wife's family is from the state.
Six of the nine justices have strong ties to Boston, New York and central New Jersey. Chief Justice John Roberts is a Midwesterner raised in Indiana, but he went to college and law school at Harvard and has spent his entire professional life in Washington. Four justices were born or raised in New York City -- Brooklyn-born Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Antonin Scalia, raised in Queens; Bronx native Sonia Sotomayor; and Elena Kagan, who is from Manhattan.
Thomas also told the Nebraska law students that it would be a good idea for the justices to occasionally hold sessions outside of Washington.
"I think it would serve us all to move around the country," Thomas said.
A University of Southern California law professor, Lee Epstein, has begun to look at whether there's any correlation between geography and voting patterns in Supreme Court cases. Her research is at a preliminary stage.
University of Notre Dame Law School professor Richard Garnett told The Associated Press he's not bothered by the lack of geographic diversity on the Supreme Court because he thinks the justices' skills are more important than their roots.
"We are well-served if the justices of the Supreme Court are well-trained, able, thoughtful lawyers," said Garnett, who believes the current panel fits that.
Thomas spent roughly 90 minutes answering student questions during his visit. He told the group that the court is being asked to play too big of a role in the nation's governance. Currently, he said too many of the difficult decisions are being left to the courts to decide.
"The really hard calls ought to be made by citizens and their political leaders," Thomas said.
Thomas was appointed to the court by Republican President George H.W. Bush, and he took his seat in 1991.