Archive for Saturday, July 7, 2007

Thomas court’s most reliable conservative

July 7, 2007

Ellen Goodman is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


— Let me wish the Supreme Court justices a fond farewell as they set out on their summer vacation. We can all rest assured now that they won't do any more damage until the first week in October.

And a special shout-out to Clarence Thomas, who may embark on his annual road trip in his 40-foot motor home knowing that he's accomplished one life goal. The justice is now talked about even less in terms of race - less as the profligate successor to Thurgood Marshall than as a certified member of the court's right wing. Color him conservative.

One of the last things the court did on its way out the door was to strike down the voluntary integration plans in the public schools of Seattle and Louisville. The plurality had the gall to invoke the famous desegregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education, to justify rolling back integration.

Much was said about the new chief justice, John Roberts, and his sound-bite decision that "the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." Much was said about Anthony Kennedy's opinion that offers a Houdini-like school committee a few ways out of the box.

In contrast, Justice Thomas' concurring opinion got remarkably little attention. By now he's been identified with the little statue of St. Jude that he keeps on his desk: the patron saint of lost causes.

But for those who still find Thomas a fascinating figure after 16 years on the bench, his opinion was fertile ground. It was rife with scorn for "social theories" and disdain for integration itself.

Thomas did more than compare the integrationists of today with the segregationists of 1954. He praised the virtues of some all-black high schools in the Jim Crow era. Then he added, "it is far from apparent that coerced racial mixing has any educational benefits, much less that integration is necessary to black achievement."

One sentence leaps out of the footnotes: "Nothing but an interest in classroom aesthetics and a hypersensitivity to elite sensibilities justifies the school districts' racial balancing programs." He trivialized the values of diversity to a matter of aesthetics and closed with a warning: "beware of elites bearing racial theories." So much for a half-century of civil rights.

These are still extraordinary words coming from the one justice on the bench who actually attended segregated black schools. But they are not extraordinary words from the man who officiated at Rush Limbaugh's wedding and whose favorable ratings among black Americans have been clocked at 32 percent.

Thomas' psyche still intrigues those who search for the biography in his opinions. We know Thomas as a man who benefited from the affirmative action he scorns. He attended Holy Cross with a scholarship established for blacks after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. He was accepted to Yale Law School, where a program committed 10 percent of the seats to minorities.

In their engrossing book "Supreme Discomfort," Kevin Merida and Michael Fletcher write, "Race is a central fact of his meteoric rise and Thomas has alternately denied it and resented it - all the way to the top."

I have no doubt that Thomas sees himself as the victim of racism, and the "racism lite" experienced by many black professionals tagged as "affirmative action babies." He's kept the pile of rejection letters received after graduating from law school. At his searing confirmation hearings, he froze the senators in their tracks by consciously describing himself as the victim of a "high-tech lynching." He also knows that many people questioned his credentials for the Supreme Court.

There is also no doubt that Thomas is fiercely independent, a prickly individualist. Merida and Fletcher describe his "need not to be typecast, which is a synonym for limited, which is a synonym for inferior." But his struggle against stereotypes, especially black stereotypes, plays out ironically as a struggle against being typecast as moderate or progressive. He once defended his conservative ideology by saying he refused to have his ideas assigned to him "as though I was an intellectual slave because I'm black."

The end result of this "rebelliousness" is, perversely, that Thomas is the most extreme justice when it comes to rolling back civil rights. The result of this "independence" is that he's the most predictable member of the conservative camp.

There Thomas is certain to remain. This justice was confirmed by the smallest margin in history. He not only convinced senators that Anita Hill lied, he convinced them that he wouldn't be a rigid ideologue. Honk if you believe Anita now.

At only 59, Clarence Thomas sits on the far right edge. As the court drifts further and further in his direction.


Steve Jacob 10 years, 10 months ago

The court could be worse. If Gonzalez did not become AG, he would of been on the court now.

erod0723 10 years, 10 months ago

"::the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." - John Roberts Did you actually read this statement? It makes no sense. This is likened to stopping crime by telling people, "Don't commit a crime." It is idealistic at best, and shamefully irresponsible and ineffective at worst.

"Well said. And thank you George w. Bush, two-term president elected by a country covered with red, for assembling a decent Supreme Court."

Decent SCOTUS? Are you serious, or have you had a little too much of the blood of Jesus this morning? Didn't Dubya try to put Harriet Miers as a justice? Roberts and Alito have done a great job of trampling on civil rights and making the court just another puppet of the jesus freaks.

Lepanto1571 10 years, 10 months ago

While we're on the ACLU, another tidbit from the dark shadows of jurisprudence exercised in the name of "civil liberties:"

"The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism, but under the name of liberalism they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program until one day America will be a socialist nation without ever knowing how it happened."-- Norman Thomas, [Marxist and co-founder of the National Civil Liberties Bureau - whose stillborn progeny was the American Civil Liberties Union].

erod0723 10 years, 10 months ago

Do we really have to get into an argument on Socialism? Have we not followed that path on more than a few threads already?

erod0723 10 years, 10 months ago

Gotta love how the jesus freaks turn any criticism upon themselves and try to make it an argument about dead babies, communism, or illegal aliens. Your antics are getting pretty tiring.

Lepanto1571 10 years, 10 months ago

erod: "Gotta love how the JESUS freaks turn any criticism upon themselves and try to make it an argument about dead babies, communism, or illegal aliens."

Having reviewed the thread, the only "JESUS freak" I could document was you. Two references: The one above and the gem below; both yours. No others.

erod: "Are you serious, or have you had a little too much of the blood of JESUS this morning?"

Please, lets refrain from interjecting religion, especially the Christian one, into these discussions. You're going to offend many secular progressives, not to mention any number of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Wiccans, Pagans and Jews, if you keep trying to bring JESUS into your argument.

I mean, like, dude, this isn't a theocracy!

Quit trying to, like, force your religious views on the rest of us!

kimathomas 10 years, 10 months ago

From your article and the depth of your "research" it must truly upset you to know certain facts that remain consistently true about the Honorable Justice Clarence Thomas: yes,he is Black, he is a conservative, he sits on the highest court in the land, and his appointment is for life...and furthermore, there is nothing you or your negative articles can do about it! That must make it either hard for you to sleep at night, or your signature conversation piece to spark up controversy during lunch break. It is somewhat disturbing to know that you know the articles in his office and how he spends his vacation--seems as though what we need to debating is tightening up our Homeland Security to keep stalkers and terrorists from threatening our protected freedoms in America. And just to briefly comment on Anita Hill...where is she today? Maybe she crawled back into the depths of hell from where she came. You might have to do more than honk, but you can always summon her--but you too will have to pay the cost of your soul, just as she did. But as I do for her, I will pray for you. A word to the wise that was quoted by Public Enemy, "Don't Believe The Hype!"

We as Black people sometimes focus on the smoke screen instead of identifying there is a fire behind it. My uncle's belief that sitting next to another white child as a black student does not make you smarter nor give you opportunities she be the mindset of ALL black people. WE make us smarter and for better opportunities we need the fundamentals to educate our students. This means putting pressure on school systems for financial support and redesigning our curriculum to meet quality standards. A white student in a classroom does not better our chances that their "white intelligence" will rub off on our black skin. I personally determine my achievement level, not my classmate or coworker. How about you? We as black people don't need that type of "help," we need fundamental change--all of which starts with who you elect at the polls. But my uncle is the scapegoat and the smoke screen that you point as the cause of strife and the elected politicians get away with the fire in their cozy little offices because we NEVER hold them accountable for our sub-par standards (I'm quite sure you are well aware of their office decorums as well!)

Continued on next comment

kimathomas 10 years, 10 months ago

Just two quick questions for you: What have the Liberals done for you, personally? Ok, how about the Conservatives? If you cannot think of anything off of the top of your head you might want to consider the ideal that PEOPLE collectively make change, despite their party affiliation. If you are going to classify Justice Thomas as anything, classify him is a reliable MAN who is the only one brave enough to remain loyal to his beliefs in America on paper, and not yielding to the popular demand or the fads of this nation. It takes more courage to stand alone and firm on your beliefs than to be safe with "the in-crowd" of the time. Not all Black people think the same way, and despite public opinion, there are in fact many Black conservatives with community empowerment objectives in America. And finally, remember, it doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you are going. No one should be shackled to the terms of their past--if that was the case most of us would never achieve or create change. My uncle, The Honorable Justice Thomas, believes in his people and he wants more for those coming behind him than what he was offered. We have now what we did not have in the past--opportunity. Now it is up to us to do what we can with our youth to maximize that opportunity by not only challenging them, but encourage them to be the entrepreneurs in their field. We don't want them to wait for their opening, or when a board selects a few to meet a quota. We want their place to never be questioned based upon merit and we want to encourage them to not just be the workers, but to be the builders!

Just a thought:

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