Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Clarence Thomas’s Continuing Payback
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
You can say what you want about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and plenty has been said and little of it’s flattering. But you can’t say he’s not a man of his word. Since that fateful day in 1991 when by the narrowest of margins a deeply divided and even more deeply reluctant Senate confirmed him to the high court, Thomas vowed payback against those who ridiculed, reviled, and hounded him during the confirmation fight. He will never forget that humiliation.
He proved that again in yet another of his patented one man dissents against the court’s majority ruling not to scrap a key section of the Voting Rights Act. Thomas went against his fellow hard line, strict constructionist, cut buddy Antonin Scalia in his dissent. He argued that he’d dump the Act since as he put it "The extensive pattern of discrimination that led the Court to previously uphold Section 5 . . . no longer exists. “
It does, and the other eight judges, Scalia included, obviously were bothered enough by the briefs from civil rights groups that implored the court to uphold the Act. They fully documented that more than a few districts in the South and the West have used rigged or malfunctioning voting machines, selective photo IDs, contrived language requirements, alleged ballot shortages, the absence of polling places and registrars, the selective use of felon laws, and intimidation tactics to chase as many blacks, Latinos and American Indians from the polls as possible. The Justice Department has filed dozens of voting irregularity and discrimination complaints in the past two decades.
Thomas’s ridiculous lone wolf votes on race based court cases, of course, make no sense to most legal experts. But his decisions make sense because they have less to do with his warped interpretation of law and its practice than with his publicly expressed racial views, and his private vow to get revenge.
When asked how long he’d stay on the court, he reportedly said that he’d stay there for next 43 years of his life. He was 43 at the time. In a more revealing aside, he supposedly quipped to friends that it would take him that long to get even. Whether that is hyperbole or an apocryphal tale, it hasn’t taken him 43 years to wreak his revenge.
He has been a one man wrecking crew to expunge race from law and public policy decisions. But this is not simply one man’s personal bitterness over his alleged mistreatment by liberals and civil rights leaders. Or a case of his digging his heels in to push his retrograde view on racial matters. He wants more judges to think and act like him on the bench. And all the better if those strict racial constructionist judges happen to be minorities.
In his autobiography My Grandfather’s Son, the bitter feelings that he holds against those who did so much to dump his confimration were on full display. He showed no sign of budging a step from the relentless public and private war he’s waged against civil rights leaders and liberal Democrats. The “liberal mob” as he brands them has one goal, and only one goal, and that’s to “keep the black man in his place.” The black man of course is Thomas.
The other theme that courses through Thomas’s clinical need for payback is his obsessive view of himself as the perennial martyr. In an American Enterprise Institute lecture in 2001, he wrapped himself in the martyr’s garment and said that he expected to be treated badly for challenging liberal opinion.
Thomas’s mean-spirited and vindictive views and legal opinions on the death penalty, age and gender bias, first amendment, prisoner rights and affirmative action cases were well known by the time he hit the court in 1991. It can hardly be said that Thomas latched on to judicial conservatism solely to curry favor with white conservatives to snatch a seat on the high court. He believes what he says and writes even when others don’t and can’t. But even if he didn’t he’d still say and write the ridiculous things he does that masquerade as dissenting legal opinions. He’s simply fulfilling his vow of payback.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard weekly in Los Angeles Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on ktym.com