Is Justice Thomas "Now Our Greatest Justice"?

Tom Goldstein has a thoughtful and interesting post on SCOTUSBlog summarizing the just-sortof-concluded Supreme Court term and looking forward to the next. I think Goldstein overstates the conservative trajectory of the Court; the judiciary's inertial momentum to the left remains strong, and the Roberts Court, as a whole, is less conservative than many claim. That disagreement aside, I think Goldstein makes some very good points, and his analysis is informative.

I was particularly struck by his discussion of Scalia and Thomas, which I excerpt below:

I think that the most interesting Justices, by far, were Justices Scalia and Thomas. Both remain the most principled members of the Court. They joined the defendant-favoring majorities in Gant in Melendez-Diaz, as they consistently have done in the recent lines of jury-right and confrontation cases. Justice Scalia joined the left to provide a majority in Cuomo and Spears. Justice Thomas did the same in the maritime punitive damages case, Atlantic Sounding. There is no counter-example in which a member of the left joined the Court's four most conservative Justices to provide a majority.

Justice Thomas, in particular, remained willing to front new theories on critical questions, often writing only for himself, as in NAMUDNO. No other member of the Court is so independent in his thinking. The irony of course is that there remains a public perception, rooted in ignorance, that he is the handmaiden of other conservative Justices, particularly Justice Scalia. I disagree profoundly with Justice Thomas's views on many questions, but if you believe that Supreme Court decisionmaking should be a contest of ideas rather than power, so that the measure of a Justice's greatness is his contribution of new and thoughtful perspectives that enlarge the debate, then Justice Thomas is now our greatest Justice.