Each summer, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas invites his four new law clerks to his home to watch a movie.

Not just any movie, but the 1949 film version of the classic of libertarian conservatism, Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.”

The movie’s hero, played by Gary Cooper, is an idealistic but stubborn architect, who, as Rand wrote, “stood alone against the men of his time.” A character, it might be said, a lot like Thomas himself. “If you think you are right, there is nothing wrong with being the only one,” he said last year in explaining his fondness for the movie. “I have no problem being the only one.”

Twenty years ago last Friday, President George H.W. Bush nominated Thomas to the nation’s highest court. In the years since, Thomas has routinely been referred to as a member of the court’s conservative bloc. But the label hardly captures the distinctiveness of his record. In an institution where the ability to decide the law depends on creating a five-vote majority, no other justice is so proud of standing alone.

He strictly avoids the give-and-take among justices during oral arguments; he has not asked a question or made a comment in more than five years.

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