Federal appellate Judge Amul Thapar will be joining the CCCG as the 2023-24 Distinguished Teaching Scholar and will co-teach a course with Center Director Philip Muñoz. In 2017 Thapar was appointed by President Donald Trump to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Judge Thapar attended Boston College before receiving his Law degree from the University of California, Berkeley. After graduating, Thapar clerked for Arthur Spiegel of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio and Nathaniel R. Jones of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He has worked in private practice, as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of Ohio and the District of Columbia, and served as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky where he was on the Terrorism and National Security subcommittee, the Violent Crime subcommittee, and the Child Exploitation working group. He was also included on President Trump’s shortlist for the Supreme Court vacancy in 2018.
Thapar’s new book, The People’s Justice: Clarence Thomas and the Constitutional Stories that Define Him, was published on June 20, 2023. The book explores the human stories behind 12 Supreme Court cases that demonstrate, in Judge Thapar’s view, “the coherence of Thomas’s judicial philosophy and the profound humanity on which it rests.”
Thapar said he chose the cases that he felt most embodied Justice Thomas’ originalism. “When you are looking for what someone genuinely believes, it is important to find his or her separate writings,” he explains. “When someone writes for the Court as a whole, it often reflects the collective views of the Justices and is cabined by the parties’ arguments. Thus, I tried to find originalist writings of Justice Thomas where he was writing for himself.”
The Heritage Foundation hosted Judge Thapar for a discussion of his book on June 21 along with three former Supreme Court litigators, Randy E. Barnett, Scott Bullock, and Alan Gura. Thapar said he started writing the book as an “originalism for ordinary people” and hopes we are able to see an originalism that supports “the little guy” and how Justice Thomas’ voice has done exactly that in his time on the Court.
To those that have criticized the opinions of Justice Thomas for their supposed religiosity, Thapar says the book has much to teach them: “First, Justice Thomas is first and foremost an originalist. As I say in the introduction, that means he follows the law wherever it takes him—sometimes to results that will surprise even his harshest critics. Second, Justice Thomas never forgets that the case involves real people, not just legal principles. Some of those people are struggling in some of the hardest circumstances imaginable. He often speaks directly to those people. Finally, Justice Thomas has a strong black voice and he champions what people of all races can accomplish if they put their mind to it.”
Notre Dame student Abraham Figueroa, a Tocqueville Fellow and Constitutional Studies minor, interned for Judge Thapar this summer at his chambers in Covington, Ohio. “It’s been a privilege to study and work under Judge Thapar,” Figueroa said. “His dedication to the law is inspiring. Judge has pushed me, as a student and an intern, to think critically, have an open mind, and to stand firm in what I believe is right, even if I’m standing alone. He is a phenomenal teacher, judge, and mentor.”
Thapar says he is excited for the opportunity to watch some Notre Dame football this year, as well as to work with students, “because I learn more from them than they learn from me…I believe ND remains one of the great universities where we can have honest discussion and debate and revisit our preconceived ideas.”
During the fall 2023 semester, Judge Thapar will co-teach a 1-credit course called “Race and American Constitutionalism” with CCCG co-director Prof. Phillip Muñoz. The course will examine Supreme Court affirmative action jurisprudence, with a particular focus on Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, a major Court decision handed down this summer and one of the most consequential decisions on race and the Constitution in recent decades.
On August 29th, the CCCG will host a public lecture in which Judge Thapar will discuss his new book. Click here for details.
This article was contributed by CCCG Writing Fellow Merlot Fogarty.