Thursday, June 27, 2013

Who is Clarence Thomas?

        In her early years on the Supreme Court,  Sandra Day O’Connor, generally sided the court’s conservatives accept in cases dealing with women’s rights. For example, in  Johnson v. Santa Clara she voted to uphold a gender-based affirmative action program in the face of a claim by a man that a woman had gotten a job he should have had. As a woman who had experienced trouble finding a job commensurate her abilities after graduating from Stanford Law School near the top of her class O’Connor understood gender discrimination in the work place and was able to cut through the legal abstractions masking an underlying ugly reality. All of this makes it even more difficult to understand Clarence Thomas’ vote Shelby County, the voting rights case and his votes in a host of others case. There is a disconnect between what he must know to be true regarding vigorous efforts at voter suppression in the southern states last year based on race and ethnicity, and his concurrent opinion in Shelby County in which he went beyond his conservative colleagues and called for even further weakening of the voting rights act. But Thomas' decisions on matters of rights are always a mystery in that they reflect a disconnect between what he must know to be true about on-going issues of racial and ethnic justice and his inevitable conclusion that corrective measures should be struck down.

      Traditional legal analysis does not explain Thomas’ judicial holdings. It is irrelevant to ask whether he is an ‘originalist’ or whether he fits any of the other categories of constitutional analysis, rather, the key to understanding his judicial opinions lies in the realm of psychology. His views, and to some extent his public judicial demeanor,  reflect a profound self-loathing, a profound sense of inadequacy. Psychological studies tells us that there are members of minority groups who    distance themselves psychologically and emotionally from the group because they accept the majority’s unfavorable view of the group as legitimate. Thomas throughout his life has made comments suggesting that he views the problems of blacks as self-imposed, famously attacking his own sister as a welfare queen. In effect, he tries to show that he, although black, “is not like the rest of them”, this dynamic perhaps accounting for his mounting a confederate flag in his office while working in state government in Missouri. His failure to take part in the fast-paced exchanges between the other justices and the lawyers appearing before the Supreme Court during oral argument reflect, perhaps,  a fear that he could not keep up intellectually. His failure to acknowledge his past, that he was a beneficiary of affirmative action at Holy Cross and at Yale Law school, stands in contrast to fellow Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s  crediting of affirmative action for providing a poor Latina from the Bronx with the opportunity to take the first steps on the path that led to becoming a Supreme Court justice. Merida and Fletcher in their book on Thomas wrote, “Some who have visited Thomas in his chambers at the court have noticed how much he broods---about the slights of his childhood, the teasing he absorbed over his dark skin…” There is something sad about this damaged man, but the real problem is that he is in a position where he can do damage to the rest of us.





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