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Clarence Thomas urges conservative crowd to complete Scalia's work

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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas addresses the Federalist Society's National Lawyers Convention dinner at National Harbor in Maryland Thursday night. (AP/Cliff Owen)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas used a rare public appearance Thursday night to warn against the dangers of unchecked executive, legislative and judicial powers. In particular, he criticized SCOTUS for its movements in recent years to protect "newly discovered fundamental rights," or rights not found in the Constitution.

The high court has too often worked to "grant" new freedoms rather than simply interpret the Constitution, he said at the Federalist Society's annual dinner at the Gaylord Hotel in Maryland. “With such unchecked judicial power, we leave it for the least accountable branch to decide what newly discovered rights should be appended to our Constitution.”

This year, the annual conservative legal convention is dedicated to the legacy of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.

Thomas spoke affectionately of Scalia, his friend for decades and colleague on the nation's highest court.

He urged the crowd, full of lawyers, judges and other conservative notables to finish the work that Scalia dedicated his life to — strictly focusing on interpreting the Constitution and not legislating from the bench.

Thomas quoted some of the late justice's best lines — Scalia was best known for his creative prose and wit while serving on the court.

"These words spoken and written by Justice Scalia [should] not be the final word written in support of originalism and constitutionalism," Thomas said. "Rather, they ought to be a prologue."

Thomas did not specifically mention the vacancy on the Supreme Court, set to be filled by President-elect Donald Trump shortly after he takes office, but he hinted that the court will be focusing more on originalism in the near future.

Using Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address to make his point, Thomas finished by asking the crowd to "be dedicated to the unfinished business for which Justice Scalia gave his last full measure of devotion."

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