Justice Clarence Thomas rarely speaks from the bench but his comments in less formal settings are often illuminating, often controversial -- especially on race.
It is a topic that continues to engage the national debate, especially when it comes from the mind of the Supreme Court's only African-American jurist.
Thomas spoke this week at a small gathering of students and faculty at a Florida college, where he echoed previous statements on the not-so subtle racism he remembers experiencing when leaving his native South.
"The worst I have been treated was by northern liberal elites. The absolute worst I have ever been treated," the 65-year-old justice said. "The worst things that have been done to me, the worst things that have been said about me, are by northern liberal elites, not by the people of Savannah, Georgia," his hometown.
His comments were first reported by Yahoo! News, but confirmed by several people who attended the Tuesday event at Palm Beach Atlantic University, a nondenominational Christian school.
Social media reaction strong
The reaction from social media has been strong, reflecting the unique pull Thomas commands, despite his low-key, press-adverse persona.
That theme of personal, political, and cultural isolation in his early professional life informs much of Thomas' current views on hot-button issues like race, seen most keenly in rulings issued from the bench.
Last year, he sided with the conservative majority to strike down a key section of the landmark Voting Rights Act, blocking the federal government from using its most potent enforcement tool.
No longer can the Justice Department rely on a decades-old formula to require states with a past history of voter discrimination against minorities to "pre-clear" any changes in their voting procedures.
In a concurrence, Thomas went further, saying the Voting Rights Act provision was completely outdated and unconstitutional.
"Today, our Nation has changed," he wrote.
A long-held belief
Now the justice's comments this week echo his long-held belief that government and society at large is overly focused and overly sensitive on trying to solve perceived racial problems.
"My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school," he told students. "To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white [Catholic] school. Rarely did the issue of race come up. Now, name a day it doesn't come up. Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn't look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive. If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I'd still be in Savannah. Every person in this room has endured a slight. Every person."
Thomas has also consistently voted as a justice to eliminate affirmative action in college admission criteria, including a case from last term.
"Although cloaked in good intentions, the university's racial tinkering harms the very people it claims to be helping," said Thomas in a June decision limiting use of race at the University of Texas to achieve diversity in the student body.
Comments are familiar
CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin said Wednesday the justice's latest comments are familiar.
"This is very consistent with how he has expressed himself about race throughout his entire career," said Toobin. "Race is something to be overcome by individual initiative. Any problems you might have can be overcome by hard work and not collective action."
Thomas has long been perceived as a contradiction, an African-American man and self-professed civil rights activist in college with liberal views, who became increasingly conservative as his career advanced in government.
He wrote about the transformation in his memoir, "My Grandfather's Son," saying he felt "tricked" by whites, when recruited to attend Yale Law School.
"I was bitter toward the white bigots whom I held responsible for the unjust treatment of blacks," he wrote. "But even more bitter toward those ostensibly unprejudiced whites who pretended to side with black people while using them to further their own political and social ends."
Most famously, he voiced that frustration during his 1991 Senate confirmation to the high court, when aggressively fighting off accusations of prior sexual harassment.
"This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. It is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves," he said.