I have been a long critic of many of Justice Clarence Thomas’ opinions which often reject basic individual rights while embracing police and national security powers. However, I believe that Thomas is often treated unfairly for being a black conservative on the Court. While others like Justices Alito, Scalia, and Roberts routinely vote along the same lines, Thomas’ race is commonly cited in commentary while that is not a factor in the other justices on the right of the Court. This unfairness was vividly shown by the comments of Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) that Thomas is an “Uncle Tom” and suggested that he was not an authenticate black person. He has refused to retract or apologize of the attack. In the meantime, Democrats are uniformly silent in the face of this uncivil and outrageous attack.
In an interview with CNN, Thompson said that Thomas apparently “doesn’t like black people, he doesn’t like being black.” After raising votes in areas like voting rights, he added that “All those issues are very important and for someone in the court who’s African American and not sensitive to that is a real problem.”
Let’s be clear, I did not view Thomas as someone who was well-suited for the Court. However, many of these justices and their predecessors were on an the top lists of legal experts. They were selected for their lack of prior controversy or other more political factors. What concerns me is that his race is constantly raised by critics. He has every right to be a conservative and has shown a consistent and committed jurisprudence supporting those views. I do not agree with those positions but I fail to see why he should be defined by his race. Indeed, I thought that one of the key objectives of the civil right movement was to allow African Americans to be judged not by the color of their skin. Thomas follows the same interpretive approach as his colleagues — an approach mind you that is not supposed to be based not on a jurist’s personal desires or association with any group. He is not supposed to show loyalty to a particular group or fulfill expectations due to his race. I have no problem with criticizing Thomas for his votes in the same way as we often criticize his colleagues, but he should not face a race test by critics.
Thomas deserves better. I have always been moved by his life’s story. His father was a farm worker and his mother was a domestic worker. They were poor and both descendants of American slaves. The family spoke Gullah as a first language. His mother literally worked for pennies a day and his early life was spent in a home without indoor plumbing. The second of three children, he later lived with his grandparents when they became homeless. Thomas was the only black person at his high school in Savannah and yet was able to remain an honor student. He went on to attend college and Yale Law School. While few seem to want to admit it, that is a remarkable and inspiring life. He developed conservative principles and values in his life. Some find that incomprehensible but his incredible struggle produced a strong personality and will that can be admired even if you strongly disagree with his views.
What concerns me most is the virtual silence from Democrats to denounce this type of race-based attack. Being called an Uncle Tom is obviously deeply offensive to African Americans. Thomas and his family have gone through too much suffering and struggle to be treated so unfairly in my view. The suggestion is that being genuinely black requires you to reach the right conclusions and support the right positions. However, the very struggle that Thompson is describing was a fight to allow black men and women to be treated as individuals and not categorized by the color of their skin. Thompson should apologize and Democrats should show that they are not selectively outraged by race-based attacks.
What do you think?
Source: Washington Post