Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Judge Clarence Thomas

When George Herbert Walker Bush appointed Clarence Thomas to the US Supreme Court in 1991, I was a card-carrying Guardianista and took little notice. If asked I'd probably have been quite happy to parrot the line that he was a token replacement for Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court judge.

There's a whole lot more to him, if the Wikipedia entry and this City Journal profile are any guide. And he's a Thomas Sowell fan, too. A few snippets :

Thomas on Judging

“In my mind, impartiality is the very essence of judging and of being a judge. A judge does not look to his or her sex or racial, social, or religious background when deciding a case. It is exactly these factors that a judge must push to one side in order to render a fair, reasoned judgment on the meaning of the law. In order to be a judge, a person must attempt to exorcise himself or herself of the passions, thoughts, and emotions that fill any frail human being. He must become almost pure, in the way that fire purifies metal, before he can decide a case. Otherwise, he is not a judge, but a legislator. . . .

“My vision of the process of judging is unabashedly based on the proposition that there are right and wrong answers to legal questions. To be sure, judging is a difficult challenge because the Constitution itself is written in broad and sometimes ambiguous terms. Unfortunately, the Constitution does not come with Cliff’s Notes or a glossary. When it comes time to interpret the Constitution’s provisions, such as, for instance, the Speech or Press Clauses of the First Amendment, reasonable minds can certainly differ as to their exact meaning. But that does not mean that there is no right or correct answer; that there are no clear, eternal principles recognized and put into motion by our founding documents.”

—“Judging,” a 1996 speech to the University of Kansas School of Law



The most important Supreme Court decisions on counting by race in recent years have both involved the University of Michigan, and Thomas’s opinions in those cases are his clearest and most passionate statements on race and the law. In Gratz v. Bollinger, the Court deemed unconstitutional Michigan’s undergraduate admissions program, which blatantly used quotas, and Thomas concurred. “I would hold that a State’s use of racial discrimination in higher education admissions is categorically prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause.”

But in Grutter v. Bollinger, the Court approved Michigan’s law school’s admissions program, which claimed that race was just one factor among many considered in admissions—though the statistical evidence implied the existence of thinly veiled quotas. Sandra Day O’Connor, writing for the majority, held that the school’s desire to achieve “diversity” was a “compelling interest,” sufficient to support taking race into account, and that its admissions program was “narrowly tailored” enough to be constitutional.

Thomas’s dramatic dissent, joined in pertinent part by Scalia, began by quoting a speech that former slave Frederick Douglass made to abolitionists in 1865. “The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us,” Douglass had said. “I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! . . . And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs!



Thomas is well-known for listening rather than actively asking questions during oral arguments of the Court. He has offered several reasons for this, the most strongly supported of which is that he developed a habit of listening as a young man. Thomas comes from the Gullah/Geechee cultural region of coastal Georgia and is a member of this distinct African American ethnic group; he grew up speaking the Gullah language, which is a hybrid of English and various West African languages. Later in life, Thomas began to acquire an enthusiasm for his heritage, writing about it in the December 14, 2000 issue of The New York Times:

"When I was 16, I was sitting as the only black kid in my class, and I had grown up speaking a kind of a dialect. It's called Geechee. Some people call it Gullah now, and people praise it now. But they used to make fun of us back then. It's not standard English. When I transferred to an all-white school at your age, I was self-conscious, like we all are... So I...just started developing the habit of listening."

3 comments:

verity said...

I am a huge fan of Clarence Thomas, and now that I know he is a fan of Thomas Sowell, even more so!

Like all communists/socialists, Sandra Day O'Connor is garbage.

Anonymous said...

Laban: ¨I was a card-carrying Guardianista ..¨

Wow!

:-)

Foxy Brown said...

Judge Clarence Thomas, what a man.