A Liberal Defense of Clarence Thomas


Slate's Dahlia Lithwick had a very interesting column this weekend cautioning her fellow liberals against smearing Justice Clarence Thomas as they mount their defense of Judge Sonia Sotomayor:

The temptation to smack back and argue that we deserve to seat Sotomayor because Thomas was a lousy affirmative-action pick who turned into a third-rate justice is hard to resist. But it's flat wrong. Liberals achieve nothing by suggesting that Thomas' elevation to the high court was preposterous on its face or that his tenure there has been a disgrace….

Claims that Thomas is too stupid to ask questions and in constant peril of embarrassing himself at the court are just not that different than claims that Sotomayor is mediocre. Nobody who has followed Thomas' 18-year career at the Supreme Court believes him to be a dunce or a Scalia clone. Whether you accept Jan Crawford Greenburg's claim that Thomas' constitutional theories are so forceful that they have shaped Scalia's or you believe the more common view that Thomas has a deeply reasoned and consistent judicial philosophy that differs dramatically from those of the court's other conservatives, accusations that he's been a dim bulb are just false. They also reveal that the name-calling that originates now, during the confirmation process, engenders a mythology that can never be erased.

It's nice to see Lithwick make this point (even if she has done a little name-calling of her own). Whether you agree with his opinions or not, Thomas has quite obviously proven himself on the Court. Yet the ridiculous idea that he's less capable than his fellow justices still persists, even among people that ought to know better.