Thursday, July 12, 2007

Is Clarence Thomas an enormous hypocrite?

In one of my recent emails about the Supreme Court's recent decisions to ban the desegregation programs in Seattle and Louisville, I called Clarence Thomas "the world's biggest hypocrite" for "pulling the ladder up behind him."
As I expected, some disagreed with me and  I thought one discussion was provocative enough to share (see below).
(Note that in the interests of keeping this email short, I won't go into another area of enormous hypocrisy by Thomas (and conservatives in general): they decry activist, liberal judges who legislate from the bench when they don't like the rulings, but do precisely this when they're in the majority, as this Op Ed in the NYT points out:

The other disturbing aspect of the new conservative judicial activism is its dishonesty. The conservative justices claim to support “judicial modesty,” but reviews of the court’s rulings over the last few years show that they have actually voted more often to overturn laws passed by Congress — the ultimate act of judicial activism — than has the liberal bloc.

It is time to admit that all judges are activists for their vision of the law. Once that is done, the focus can shift to where it should be: on whose vision is more faithful to the Constitution, and better for the nation.

My friend:
Dear Whitney,

        As a friend, a collaborator on school choice, and an avid reader of your e-mails, I was more than disappointed in your recent comment on Clarence Thomas.  I have no trouble with your disagreeing with him, but rather with the shallow, limousine liberal comment that he is “the world’s biggest hypocrite.”

        My dictionary defines hypocrite as “A person who pretends to have principles, beliefs, etc that he does not actually possess.”  Apparently you “know” that Judge Thomas does not truly believe that the Constitution means what he and four Justices ruled that it means regarding racial discrimination.  You brand him a hypocrite because he presumably benefited from reverse discrimination (probably from a private versus public source) and therefore could not possibly believe the Constitution prohibits governmental discrimination by race.

        What intellectual arrogance on your part, Whitney.  The man took an oath to interpret the Constitution as he reads it, not as he might wish it were written.  My Irish forbearers, too, were discriminated against, but I believe Judge Thomas’ reading of the Constitution is correct.  Does that make me a hypocrite?  Am I trying, in your words, to “pull up the ladder” behind me?  From our shared efforts you know that is not true.  Nor is it true of Judge Thomas, who, to my certain knowledge, spends time personally helping needy minority kids.

        Sadly, Whitney, your comment was not worthy of you.

My reply:
I expected some flak from that comment -- and wouldn't have made it if I wasn't prepared to stand behind it.
Hypocrite has some slightly different meanings.  I didn't mean it in the way you defined it: as someone who pretends to have beliefs he really doesn't have.  To me, that's someone who is false or simply a liar.  I don't accuse Clarence Thomas of this: I agree with you that he really believes what he says he believes.
I'll also concede that he's not literally "the world's biggest hypocrite" -- if pressed and given enough time, I could probably think of a bigger one.  But he's still an enormous hypocrite in my book.  Allow me to explain:
I use the word as defined by Wikipedia: "Hypocrisy is the act of condemning another person, where the stated basis for the criticism is the breach of a rule which also applies to the critic."  Using this definition, Thomas is the embodiment of hypocrisy to condemn racial preferences, yet occupy one of the most powerful seats in the world largely because of racial preferences.  C'mon, is there anyone who could argue with a straight face that Thomas would have been among even the top 100 nominees for the Supreme Court were it not for his race!?  Bush needed an African-American to replace Thurgood Marshall and wanted someone who was very conservative -- that sure narrows the field down, doesn't it?
If Thomas were truly honest and wanted to demonstrate his intellectual and moral integrity (rather than his hypocrisy), he would have turned down the nomination, saying something like "I appreciate the offer Mr. President, but you and I both know that there are other vastly more experienced, accomplished and distinguished jurists with equally reliable conservative credentials.  It would not be fair or consistent with my beliefs for me to leap over at least 100 such men and women simply because I'm black."  Now that I would respect! 
But I'm quite certain that the thought never crossed his mind because I would bet my last dollar that he refuses to allow the thought to ever enter his head that he wouldn't be where he was were it not for precisely the kind of racial preferences that he so passionately tries to eliminate -- the cognitive dissonance would be too great to bear.  So instead, he tells himself what everyone knows is a huge lie -- that he was truly the most qualified person at every step in his educational and legal career -- and behaves accordingly.
As you know, I have mixed feelings about racial preferences (for example, see this email on affirmative action I sent around a few months ago:, so I can understand how a reasonable person -- even one who had benefitted from racial preferences -- might oppose them.  But I just think it's sort of obscene for Thomas, whose climb up a long ladder to reach the absolute pinnacle as probably the most powerful African American in the country was facilitated by racial preferences, to energetically try to make it much harder for others similarly situated as he was to climb the same ladder.
His response:
Your argument is that Judge Thomas, having not declined the President's nomination, is forever prohibited from ruling on a Constitutional issue in the manner he believes to be correct; ie that he must violate his sacred oath.  That is leaning on a very weak read to brand him a hypocrite.
My response:
It is the definition of hypocrisy to benefit from something and then condemn it.  For example, to use three examples that I suspect will resonate with you, it is hypocritical for: a) well-heeled environmentalists to fly around in private jets, which produce exponentially more pollution per passenger than commerical aircraft; b) residents of Nantucket who profess to be concerned about global warming to oppose the proposed wind farm off the coast because it might have a tiny impact on the view from their mansions and, in an example I'm certain you'll agree with; c) politicians who can afford (and exercise) parental choice to choose the school they think is best for their children to then oppose giving other parents the same fundamental right. 
That last one really burns me up -- and why I'm not a hypocrite for sending my three daughters to private school: I believe in -- and fight for -- the right of all parents to make the same choices my wife and I made.
As for Thomas, I'm not saying he should have turned down the position on the Supreme Court when it was offered, nor that he has to embrace every racial preference program.  A good start would be to acknowledge how much he's benefitted from such programs -- both public and private -- and to make some attempt to have a nuanced view of a complex and difficult issue.
PS--I trust you saw the article below on this topic, where we learn -- surprise! -- that Thomas was accepted at Yale Law School under an affirmative action program and -- double surprise! -- refuses to acknowledge this.
Justice Thomas was himself admitted to Yale Law School under a set-aside program for minority applicants, although his limited public comments on the subject suggest he has resisted accepting that he was given special treatment.
Last Term’s Winner at the Supreme Court: Judicial Activism
Published: July 9, 2007

The Supreme Court told Seattle and Louisville, and hundreds more cities and counties, last month that they have to scrap their integration programs. There is a word for judges who invoke the Constitution to tell democratically elected officials how to do their jobs: activist.

President Bush, who created the court’s conservative majority when he appointed Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, campaigned against activist judges, and promised to nominate judges who would “interpret the law, not try to make law.” Largely because of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, the court has just completed one of its most activist terms in years.

The individuals and groups that have been railing against judicial activism should be outraged. They are not, though, because their criticism has always been of “liberal activist judges.” Now we have conservative ones, who use their judicial power on behalf of employers who mistreat their workers, tobacco companies, and whites who do not want to be made to go to school with blacks.


Justice Secures His Place as a Critic of Integration

Published: July 9, 2007

WASHINGTON, July 8 — When Justice Clarence Thomas provided a pivotal vote last month as the Supreme Court struck down school integration plans in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, he suggested the concept of integration was inherently demeaning to black children because it implied they needed to mix with whites to achieve excellence.

His comments, including his description of people who promote integration as faddish theorists, demonstrated anew his place as the most influential black voice criticizing the value of integration and affirmative action plans. But as Justice Thomas is also the most intensely scrutinized personality on the court, his comments inevitably raise questions about much his legal views are shaped by the difficulties of his own experience with race and education.

Justice Thomas’s recent opinion on integration has provided fresh material for the rich debate about him among black scholars for whom he has been a fascinating and vexing subject since he was narrowly confirmed to the court in 1991. The renewed discussion also comes at the same time as the publication of a critical biography and not long before his own memoir is set for publication in October.


Post a Comment

<< Home