There’s something endlessly fascinating about the left’s insistence that Clarence Thomas is not “authentically” black—that this descendant of slaves, this grandson of sharecroppers, this hardworking man who rose to the grandest heights of the legal profession, is a traitor to his race and his class. I don’t know what it is about Thomas that drives the left so nuts, but it’s there, and it’s very real. Could you imagine what would happen if someone on the right described a brilliant liberal African-American of being no more than a slave controlled by white devils?
I hate to say this—the charge is offered all too often with far little in the way of support—but that shit is racist as hell.
Leave aside the “More like Uncle Clarence Thomas, amirite?” sniggering. The suggestion that Clarence Thomas is just a mindless puppet whose strings were pulled by Antonin Scalia is racist and ignorant and wholly unsupported by anything resembling the facts. Jeffrey Toobin—no fan of Thomas, he!—has said as much in the storied pages of the New Yorker:
In several of the most important areas of constitutional law, Thomas has emerged as an intellectual leader of the Supreme Court. Since the arrival of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., in 2005, and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., in 2006, the Court has moved to the right when it comes to the free-speech rights of corporations, the rights of gun owners, and, potentially, the powers of the federal government; in each of these areas, the majority has followed where Thomas has been leading for a decade or more. Rarely has a Supreme Court Justice enjoyed such broad or significant vindication.
The conventional view of Thomas takes his lack of participation at oral argument as a kind of metaphor. The silent Justice is said to be an intellectual nonentity, a cipher for his similarly conservative colleague, Antonin Scalia. But those who follow the Court closely find this stereotype wrong in every particular. Thomas has long been a favorite of conservatives, but they admire the Justice for how he gives voice to their cause, not just because he votes their way. “Of the nine Justices presently on the Court, he is the one whose opinions I enjoy reading the most,” Steve Calabresi, a professor at the Northwestern University School of Law and a co-founder of the Federalist Society, said. “They are very scholarly, with lots of historical sources, and his views are the most principled, even among the conservatives. He has staked out some bold positions, and then the Court has set out and moved in his direction.”
Look, I don’t expect progressives to like Thomas. Or agree with him. But maybe they could show him a modicum of respect?