Nina Totenberg of NPR had a long piece on the twentieth anniversary of the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Aside from the fact that his confirmation hearings and the testimony of Anita Hill turned it into an incredible circus, his tenure on the court has been marked by the fact that he is the most right-wing radical justice to serve since time out of mind. His views make Antonin Scalia sound like William O. Douglas.
He is the only justice willing to allow states to establish an official religion; the only justice who believes teenagers have no free speech rights at all; the only justice who believes that it’s unconstitutional to require campaign funders to disclose their identity; he’s the only justice who voted to strike down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act; and the only justice to say that the court should invalidate a wide range of laws regulating business conduct and working conditions.
Though his defenders shy from calling his views radical, they trumpet Thomas as the only justice to consistently return to what they see as the original meaning of the Constitution when it was adopted in 1789.
Which is ironic, to say the least; as an African-American, the Constitution of 1789 defined Mr. Thomas as three-fifths of a person in terms of the census. And while the people who work with him in the Court describe him as very friendly and accessible, the rage over the accusations by Ms. Hill that we saw during his confirmation seems to be a part of his make-up as well; he has a chip on his shoulder about affirmative action — which probably had a part in getting him into Yale Law School — and he refuses to acknowledge that he even went there. And is there any doubt that when Thurgood Marshall retired in 1991, President George H.W. Bush basically told his staff to find him the best conservative judge they could find to fill the seat… as long as he was black? Mr. Thomas may despise the cynicism and presumptuousness of affirmative action and the patronizing of white liberals who think that African-Americans cannot make it on their own, but he has no problem using the system that it provides.
It seems that Justice Thomas has done everything to shut out the ugliness of the real world that he grew up in and now lives in. He only hires clerks that agree with his political and judicial philosophies, and only socializes with people such as Rush Limbaugh, who feel that any point of view to the left of the John Birch Society is commie-pinko talk. It’s interesting that a man who railed against being singled out for a high-tech lynching by the white male upper class and who holds such a powerful dislike for elitist snobs, has become one himself.