Someone needs to do a psychological study of the way in which liberals view Clarence Thomas. He stands as such a stark contradiction of so many core assumptions that they have to view him as suffering from emotional scarring or exhibiting some type of maladjusted overcompensation.
The New York Times is all into this. Following Adam Cohen's op-ed of a few weeks ago, yesterday saw Orlando Patterson's review of a recent Thomas biography by Merida and Fletcher. Aptly titled "Thomas Agonistes" because, you know, a conservative black man must be at war with himself and his past, it is the same old, same old. After spending most of the review lingering over what he regards as self-evident contradictions, traumas, and pathologies in Thomas' life (the list is actually a bit underwhelming and no less complex than the messiness that you'd find in the lives of most people), Patterson finally observes that the biography does not really examine Thomas' legal philosophy and work on the Court. He knows just enough not to let this go because, he allows, some legal scholars have concluded that Thomas' thought is actually worth taking seriously.
Not that this interests Patterson very much. He dismisses it as a topic for "lawyers." Earlier in the piece he suggests that Thomas' "ardent defense of states’ rights would have required him to uphold Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law, not to mention segregated education" yet he lives with a white wife in Virginia. He believes that there is some type of fascinating contradiction between his "unfeeling" judicial opinions and the apparent fact that Thomas is, personally, warm and compassionate.
I do not know why Patterson believes Thomas would overrule Brown v. Board of Education. I am not aware of everything that Justice Thomas has written, but I don't recall that he has written that. Perhaps someone can fill me in, but there is a substantial difference between the process of incorporating other rights into the 14th amendment to be applied against the states and applying the terms of the 14th itself which is explicity applicable to the states.
I do know that Thomas was critical of Brown's rationale in a case called Missouri v. Jenkins, but his point there was that the Brown court should not have emphasized the psychological harm stemming from segregation. In his view, de jure segregation was unconstitutional because it violated the plain terms of the 14th amendment. Whether or not it results in psychological harm is legally irrelevant. I think there's a great deal to be said for that view.
Maybe Patterson means that Thomas would not find a constitutional remedy for de facto segregation. But the fact that a judge does not believe that there is a constitutional remedy for every problem or that it is his job to impose a "feeling" kind of result hardly requires us to search for personality flaws or a tortured past.