"A theory deeply etched in our law [is that] a free society prefers to punish the few who abuse the rights of free speech after they break the law rather than to throttle them and all others beforehand."
Justice Clarence Thomas
(1948- ) U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Avis v. Aguilar, 2000
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Reader comments about this quote:
I am not sure there is such as thing as "abuse" of a right...especially free speech, but the principle is true that law should not be preventive. Law should punish guilt, not preempt action.
 -- Ben, Orem, UT     
    My thoughts and philosophy tend toward Constitutionalism. We are either within the laws, as written by our Founders, or not. Much can be said about their writings - but the Constitution that they gave us is unimbiguous, as far as my thinking goes.
     -- Linda Gordon, Prescott, Az     
     -- Anonymous      
    To pre-empt an action and punich it has nothing to do with justice. Punishment for guilt depends on having done something wrong.
     -- WILL, Ice planet     
    Anything else is tyranny.
     -- J Carlton, Calgary     
    We are blessed by God to have this man on our Supreme Court.
     -- John, Richmond     
    Too bad someone didn't 'throttle' him before he said this. This justice tries to make law from the bench. I would like to see him impeached or at least have him read the 'Bill of Rights' 500 times outloud before a class of 5th graders to insure the American public he really is aware of them. No wonder he doesn't speak from the bench. Too busy with the hair and the coke thing I guess.
     -- Midnightflyer, USA     
    Freedom of speech is one thing -- expression is not SPEECH
     -- cal, lewisville, tx     
    Seems to understand what Thomas is trying to say, one might need to know what the case was about. Was a law actually broken? The tone of the message gives me the feeling that he does not approve of free speech when he speaks of throttling them beforehand, as if he might prefer to do so. Thomas doesn't belong on the Court. Too bad Anita Hill's testimony didn't eliminate him. He prefers to act inappropriately, and seems he did use his free speech to say some rather crude words to her.
     -- Juggs, Any Town     
    I imagine it would be hard to find any contemporary politician (yes, judges are politicians) that actually lives up to his/her own rhetoric, but as the rating is for the quote and not the man, I agree wholeheartedly. And cal makes a good point -- expression is not speech, it is an act. That of course does not mean that the People via the Constitution have given Congress regulating authority over the consensual sexual expressions of adults (the politically correct phrase 'free expression' always seems to have a sexual part to it, and mankind has been trying to control who can have sex with whom since time memorial, and our generation of de facto rulers are no different). 'Hate speech' is another example of stretching words into actions. I can say 'I wish he was dead' and have not committed a crime, but if I act on making it so, it is then a crime. One more thing: we cannot legislate 'crime prevention'! The police/government are not there to prevent crimes -- they are there to protect our rights from abuse and to facilitate justice when crimes have been committed. The idea that the government is there to prevent people from saying hurtful things or stopping thieves from burglarizing is wrong. WE are responsible for our own actions and if we want freedom for ourselves then we must grant it to everyone -- even those we hate. We must also learn how to defend ourselves against real agression and how to let the rantings of lunatics roll off our backs.
     -- E Archer, NYC     
    I never thought I would ever agree with this guy.
     -- RBESRQ     
    Not really said very well but, accurate.
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
    Juggs- Annita belongs in jail for perjury. She was exposed repeatedly during the hearings as a liar. Justice Thomas does not legislate from the bench. The quote can be a bit confusing but it does have some humor to it.
     -- warren, olathe     
    Intent is the big word in trials now. Not whether someone committed a crime but whether they intended to do an act that was criminal. This includes free speech prosecutions. If someone intended to hurt someone's feelings with their words then that is a crime because there was intent. Lots of ways of twisting the law to get a hold on someone that might be a threat to the establishment. Been there. Kangaroo court abounds.
     -- Juggs, Any Town     
    Hmmm..."free speech prosecutions"...I like that idea.
     -- Adolf H., Germantown     
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