Justice Clarence Thomas joined the U.S. Supreme Court 25 years ago this week, yet Thomas-derangement has not abated with time.
Though he has won admirers from all corners of legal and public life, a loud cadre of detractors has long been critical of his work on and off the Court, and the occasion of his anniversary roused yet more — and familiar — broadsides.
Jeffrey Toobin, a legal commentator and writer for CNN and The New Yorker, wrote an essay in which he argued Thomas has had practically no meaningful impact on the Court’s jurisprudence. He wonders: “What’s the most important opinion Thomas has written for the majority during his tenure on the Court?”
“It’s a trick question, in a way,” Toobin writes, in answer to his own question. “Neither Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who presided over Thomas’s first fourteen years on the Court, nor Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., who has run the court for the past eleven, ever assigned Thomas a landmark opinion for the Court.” He continues some lines down; “The truth is that Rehnquist and Roberts never trusted Thomas to write an opinion in a big case that could command a majority of even his conservative colleagues.”
As the Hoover Institution’s Adam White notes in the pages of The Weekly Standard, Toobin has made a cottage industry of heckling Thomas, quick to assume the worst of him where another reasonable observer could by prudence arrive at a different conclusion. In a 2014 piece he lambasted Thomas for declining to ask questions during oral arguments, characterizing his behavior on the bench as “bizarre” and “disgraceful.” Might his silence at oral arguments reflect a courtesy to the advocates, a protest to the one-upmanship of his colleagues? No, Toobin concludes. He’s not just not paying attention.
This is to say nothing of the fact that the central contention of his essay is highly suspect, as White argues in his rebuttals. Legal practitioners took issue with Toobin’s argument as well.
In a recent column for The New York Times, Maureen Dowd cast Michelle Obama as a latter-day Anita Hill, lavishing the First Lady with praise for hammering Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump with a rhetorical barrage concerning allegations of sexual assault that dog his fading bid for the presidency.
“The creepy guy who acted pervy toward her won,” she wrote of Thomas from her perch at the Grey Lady.
“Why else did she wait so many years to tell her story?” she asked, as if legitimate skepticism of Hill went out with parachute pants and the White Russian. “Why else would she not have quit when Thomas was so prurient or at least not follow him to another government office? Male entitlement could fathom male entitlement, but not the myriad ways women continue to be treated as property, and the myriad ways women react to that shameful treatment — suppressing it or working around it.”
Exclusion from National Museum of African American History and Culture
Though he is only the second black man to serve on the Supreme Court, and will soon pass Justice Thurgood Marshall as the longest-serving black justice, Thomas was excluded from the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Anita Hill, however, is given prominent billing in an exhibit on blacks in the 1990s. The exhibit features testimonies trumpeting her courage and the surge of women’s activism that ensued, while making only peripheral reference to Thomas. (RELATED: Clarence Thomas Is Conspicuously Absent In The New Black History Smithsonian)
There is no showcase of Thomas’s own life and career, which ran its own harsh gauntlet of racial discrimination.
For it’s part, the Smithsonian denies a political or ideological motive.
“There are many compelling personal stories about African Americans who have become successful in various fields, and obviously, Associate Justice Thomas is one of them,” a spokesman said. “However, we cannot tell every story in our inaugural exhibitions.”
“We will continue to collect and interpret the breadth of the African American experience,” the spokesman added.
Though the world of 1991 differs dramatically from 2016, there are always constants and life, and compulsive derision of Clarence Thomas seems to be one of them.
Editor’s note: Clarence Thomas’ wife Ginni is an employee of The Daily Caller News Foundation.
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