Though I am not the first to say so, I believe that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is the single greatest American alive today.

One need only read his autobiography My Grandfather’s Son to understand why. Thomas – an African American who has been the high court’s stalwart originalist justice for 32 years – began his life in abject poverty in Pinpoint, Georgia. Born in 1948, the young Thomas lived during the height of segregation and racial tensions.

Though known as a conservative originalist today, as a young man Thomas joined the Black Panther Party as a radical leftist.

One can hardly blame him. Attending Catholic seminary during the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas recalls overhearing one student say, “Good. I hope the son of a ***** died.”

Thomas has since changed his mind, becoming an individual all conservatives look up to as the gold standard for Supreme Court justices.

Rather than seeing only America’s faults and failings, Thomas – without any naiveté or ignorance – also sees America’s many bright spots.

Last Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that affirmative action policies, whereby colleges consider race as a factor in admissions, are unconstitutional.

Thomas joined the five other justices in the majority, but also wrote a separate concurring opinion to explain his reasoning. In his opinion, Thomas dueled with the court’s other African American, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“Justice Jackson uses her broad observations about statistical relationships between race and select measures of health, wealth, and well-being to label all blacks as victims. Her desire to do so is unfathomable to me,” Justice Thomas wrote.

“I cannot deny the great accomplishments of black Americans, including those who succeeded despite long odds.”

On the last page of his concurring opinion, Thomas wrote that “the great failure of this country was slavery and its progeny.”

“The Court’s opinion … sees the universities’ admissions policies for what they are: rudderless, race-based preferences designed to ensure a particular racial mix in their entering classes. Those policies fly in the face of our colorblind Constitution and our Nation’s equality ideal,” he added.

Thomas concluded:

While I am painfully aware of the social and economic ravages which have befallen my race and all who suffer discrimination, I hold out enduring hope that this country will live up to its principles so clearly enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States: that all men are created equal, are equal citizens, and must be treated equally before the law.

America is far from a perfect nation. Slavery, as our “original sin,” is a particularly dark part of our past.

But, as Thomas recognizes, the right to equality and equal rights are woven into the very fabric of America’s founding documents. Though America may not always live up to that standard, it is our standard nonetheless.

When it comes to slavery and segregation, America has come a long, long way. On this Independence Day, that is a great truth to celebrate.

Related articles and resources:

U.S. Supreme Court Rules Affirmative Action Unconstitutional

Optimism, Faith and Freedom in America

Stop Making Good and Honorable Justices Casualties of the Culture War

Three Great Books for Summer Reading

Be Strong and Remain Fearless, Justice Thomas

Photo from Getty Images.