Monday, June 04, 2007

Clarence Thomas don't know his place

Adam Cohen writes on Clarence Thomas in the New York Times, jumping off from the recent biography of Thomas by Kevin Merida and Michael Fletcher.

There is, in Cohen's view, no need to treat Thomas as anything other than a black guy who doesn't act like he's supposed to. There is no need to explore his view of race relations and what is likely to improve them. There is no point in trying to understand his philosophy of judging and interpretation.

The problem, for Cohen, is that Thomas is just a big meanie. He is concerned about what the law says and doesn't say when he ought to be looking out for who Cohen perceives to be the deserving little guy. He cites a couple of Thomas opinions arguing that treatment of state prisoners that seemed unduly harsh (but that apparently was not life-threatening and did not result in serous injury) did not rise to the level of cruel and unusual punishment. For Cohen, this could only be an indifference rooted in maladjustment of some kind (he's a self-hating black!) and not a reluctance to federalize all forms of prisoner mistreatment.

He thinks that Thomas' opposition to affirmative action is somehow inexplicable given that Thomas has experienced racism and believes that it persists. The idea that Thomas might also believe that the Constitution prohibits - and the need for racial progress militates against - racial preferences is not to be found in Cohen's world.

Cohen sees no need to see Thomas as a real person with real ideas. He is an "enigma." He is "the justice who has faced the greatest hardships [but] regularly rules for the powerful over the weak." Thomas has redirected his (righteous) anger against whites toward "liberals and civil rights organizations." He hangs with Rush Limbaugh. He's gotten all uppity.

Cohen contrasts Thomas with Thurgood Marshall. He played his part. He was "humane." He never allowed the law to get in the way of a good result.

Thurgood Marshall was a great lawyer. His representation of the NAACP's "Inc. Fund" earned him an honored place in American history.

As a Supreme Court Justice, he was a good trial lawyer.

Clarence Thomas' career before he joined the Court was not as extraordinary, but on the Court, he has proven to be a thoughtful jurist with his own philosophy. He is committed to the discipline of the law.

If you don't like his jurisprudence, then show him the respect of engaging it on its own terms. Don't treat him like a "Negro gone bad."

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