Supreme Court

A History Lesson From Clarence Thomas

Correcting a liberal smear about the conservative Supreme Court justice.

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In Django Unchained, director Quentin Tarantino's bloody ode to the spaghetti western set in the pre?Civil War American South, Samuel L. Jackson portrays the despicable character of Stephen, the head house slave on a hellish Mississippi plantation. Reviewing the film for The Boston Globe, critic Wesley Morris struggled to convey the villainy of Stephen's character, turning to a present-day comparison for help. "The movie is too modern for what Jackson is doing to be limited to 1858," Morris wrote. "He's conjuring the house Negro, yes, but playing him as though he were Clarence Thomas."

It was not the first time a liberal writer had taken a cheap shot at the conservative Supreme Court justice. New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse once described Justice Antonin Scalia as Thomas' "apparent mentor," yet we now know that Thomas has been the one quietly influencing Scalia's jurisprudence. But the comparison to the slave power system was particularly contemptible, especially because no Supreme Court justice since Thurgood Marshall has written more frequently or powerfully about American racism than Thomas.

Consider his role in the 2003 case Virginia v. Black, which involved a state law criminalizing the burning of a cross "with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons." While most of his colleagues focused on First Amendment law, Thomas offered a different view. The law was intended to counteract "almost 100 years of lynching and activity in the South" by the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups, he reminded the courtroom during oral argument. "This was a reign of terror, and the cross was a symbol of that reign of terror."

When the case was decided several months later, Thomas went further in a lone dissent, arguing that cross burning was part and parcel of that racist terrorism and therefore deserved no protection under the First Amendment. "Those who hate cannot terrorize and intimidate to make their point," he wrote.

It was not an opinion cheered by free speech advocates, although that does not disqualify it from the realm of civil rights. Nor would it be the last time Thomas offered a history lesson about race in America.

In 2010, after the Supreme Court struck down several campaign finance restrictions in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court came under intense criticism for harboring an alleged pro-corporate bias. In response, Thomas reminded those critics that the cause of campaign finance regulation was not exactly squeaky clean.

"Go back and read why Tillman introduced that legislation," Thomas told an audience at Stetson University College of Law, referring to the Tillman Act of 1907, an early campaign finance law sponsored by Sen. Benjamin Tillman, a leading Southern Progressive and notorious white supremacist. "Tillman was from South Carolina," Thomas continued, "and as I hear the story he was concerned that the corporations, Republican corporations, were favorable toward blacks, and he felt that there was a need to regulate them."

But that verbal jab was nothing compared to Thomas' contribution to the 2010 decision in McDonald v. Chicago, where the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms constrains state and local governments via the 14th Amendment. In his concurrence, Thomas once again reached for the history books, this time tracing the 14th Amendment's origins to the antislavery movement and the efforts of the Radical Republicans of the 39th Congress, who sought to force the former Confederate states to respect fundamental rights after the Civil War—including the right to keep and bear arms, a provision of particular importance to the recently freed slaves now facing the South's incipient Jim Crow regime.

That focus on black history even earned Thomas a rare compliment from liberal Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy, who marveled, "His advocacy for black self-defense is straight from the heart of Malcolm X." Milloy's sentiment was accurate, although he should have reached further back for the comparison. Thomas' advocacy for black self-defense came straight from the heart of Frederick Douglass, whose writings Thomas repeatedly cited in his McDonald opinion. "The liberties of the American people were dependent upon the ballot-box, the jury-box, and the cartridge-box," Douglass once wrote. "Without these no class of people could live and flourish in this country."

Many of his critics may be too ignorant to know it, but Thomas' writings are steeped in African-American history and grapple repeatedly with the long shadow cast by slavery and Jim Crow. He may not be a modern liberal, but there is no question that Clarence Thomas is part of a civil rights tradition that started with Frederick Douglass.

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48 responses to “A History Lesson From Clarence Thomas

  1. Scratch a statist, find a racist.

    Nothing new here.

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  2. Clarence Thomas is the Ronald Reagan of the Supreme Court… liberals hate him because they must.

    1. are we required to love tax-and-spend neocons now?

    2. Interesting you should say that. California’s gun control laws came into existence under Reagan’s administration, specifically because the Black Panthers were going about armed and thereby “intimidating” local “law enforcement”.

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  3. the Court came under intense criticism for harboring an alleged pro-corporate bias.

    FFS, did these people also scream about NY Times Co. v. Sullivan, which limited the ability of states to censor the NY Times Company (A public corporation)?

    1. But that’s different. The Grey Lady is gatekeeper Journalism! The nerve!

  4. La,la,la,la…Anita Hill…la,la,la,la.

  5. “…especially because no Supreme Court justice since Thurgood Marshall has written more frequently or powerfully about American racism than Thomas.”

    Well, given that Thomas replaced Marshall on the court, that sounds like pretty faint praise.

    That said, I largely agree with the substance of the article. Surprising amounts of progressive policy have their roots in pure, unadulterated racial politics. In a way, this sort of makes sense, to systematically suppress a group of people, you can’t ultimately rely on the populace’s willingness to cooperate. You need force of law.

    1. [Surprising amounts of progressive policy have their roots in pure, unadulterated racial politics. ]

      Indeed, the very party of the Progressives, the Democrat Party has it’s very roots in pure unadulterated racial politics.

  6. OT:

    Gates pans Why Nations Fail.

    Authors pan Gates.

    “Did the Microsoft founder even read our book before he criticized it?”

    His inability to understand even the most rudimentary parts of our thesis…

    Gates makes some pretty baffling statements about our book…

    ..he actually did not bother to consult the bibliographic essay and the references at the end…

    Gates also says at one point that our book “refers to me in a positive light.” Sorry, we do no such thing. We point out that Gates, just like Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim, would have loved to form a monopoly. He tried and failed.

    1. Gates also says at one point that our book “refers to me in a positive light.” Sorry, we do no such thing. We point out that Gates, just like Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim, would have loved to form a monopoly. He tried and failed.

      Oh good lord, that is a hell of a burn.

    2. The authors believe that political “inclusiveness” must come first, before growth is achievable. Yet, most examples of economic growth in the last 50 years?the Asian miracles of Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore?took place when their political tended more toward exclusiveness.

      From Gates’ review. Oh good Lord. This is so wrong, it’s unbelievable. Every one of those countries had an incredibly free market. I don’t know what Gates is talking about.

      1. “I don’t know what Gates is talking about.”

        And neither does Gates…

      2. To be fair, the authors cite political inclusiveness, not a free market. A free market can be instituted by a dictator.

        To be blunt, Gates is likely right, just not for the reasons he thinks.

        1. Although, again, didn’t those countries do most of their growing after they opened up more? For example, South Korea’s GDP per capita took off a lot faster after they opened up politically.

  7. People, especially Blacks, need to learn more about Frederick Douglas. It’s an interesting biography.

    1. They need to learn more about the history of the Democrat Party.

    2. Yup. But at the same time, in his later days, he wasn’t too popular, because he wasn’t saying what they wanted to hear.

  8. Racism is just another statist tool to restrict speech based on feelings. Current law already punishes racist acts that actually causes harm to people.

  9. “…Linda Greenhouse once described Justice Antonin Scalia as Thomas’ “apparent mentor,” yet we now know that Thomas has been the one quietly influencing Scalia’s jurisprudence.”

    Anyone have a link that would provide some substance to this claim? I had not heard this before.

  10. Well Clarence Thomas doesn’t count as a real black guy because he doesn’t toe the company line or fit the standard victim narrative, so therefore it is good and proper to refer to him as a house nigger race traitor. DUH

  11. U.S.Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas knows these same Elite$ that shoved unlimited Inter+National Corp Free Speech political influence$ into our USA Elective Process,are the same folks shoving Same Sex Marriage down Religious America’s throats..

    The same Elite Americans owning www USA Networks will obviously also continue supplying our millions of www children their Hardcore www Porn 24/7 as well..

  12. But that verbal jab was nothing compared to Thomas’ contribution to the 2010 decision in McDonald v. Chicago, where the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms constrains state and local governments via the 14th Amendment. In his concurrence, Thomas once again reached for the history books, this time tracing the 14th Amendment’s origins to the antislavery movement and the efforts of the Radical Republicans of the 39th Congress, who sought to force the former Confederate states to respect fundamental rights after the Civil War?including the right to keep and bear arms, a provision of particular importance to the recently freed slaves now facing the South’s incipient Jim Crow regime.

    That focus on black history even earned Thomas a rare compliment from liberal Washington Post columnist http://www.freechaussuresfr.co…..-c-11.html Courtland Milloy, who marveled, “His advocacy for black self-defense is straight from the heart of Malcolm X.” Milloy’s sentiment was accurate, although he should have reached further back for the comparison. Thomas’ advocacy for black self-defense came straight from the heart of Frederick Douglass, whose writings Thomas repeatedly cited in his McDonald opinion. “The liberties of the American people were dependent upon the ballot-box, the jury-box, and the cartridge-box,” Douglass once wrote. “Without these no class of people could live and flourish in this country.”

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    1. Is Cheryl hot? “pant-pant”

  15. I wish Reason’s editors would employ somebody to edit out the stupid “get rich working on line from home” ads. Perhaps if enough were deleted these idiots would go to another blog, the NY Times perhaps.

  16. Lefty is just a loyal Democrat, and the Democratic Party is still holding a grudge over losing their ownership of the “African.” When they see a Black man like Clarence Thomas who has left the Liberal Plantation to think for himself, and worse yet has been allowed to become successful despite thinking for himself, it literally drives them over the edge. They forget to keep their masks on and often reveal their true selves at that point.

  17. But that verbal jab was nothing compared to Thomas’ contribution to the 2010 decision in McDonald v. Chicago, where the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms constrains state and local governments via the 14th Amendment. In his concurrence, Thomas once again reached for the history books, this time tracing the 14th Amendment’s origins to the antislavery movement and the efforts of the Radical Republicans of the 39th Congress, who sought to force the former Confederate states to respect fundamental rights after the Civil War?including the right to keep and bear arms, a provision of particular importance to the recently freed slaves now facing the South’s incipient Jim Crow regime.

    That focus on black history even earned Thomas a rare compliment from liberal Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy, who marveled, “His advocacy for black self-defense is straight from the heart of Malcolm X.” Milloy’s sentiment was accurate, although he should have reached further back for the comparison. Thomas’ advocacy for black self-defense came straight from the heart of Frederick http://www.toneweras.com/new-e…..-c-55.html Douglass, whose writings Thomas repeatedly cited in his McDonald opinion. “The liberties of the American people were dependent upon the ballot-box, the jury-box, and the cartridge-box,” Douglass once wrote. “Without these no class of people could live and flourish in this country.”

  18. Many of us who teach college courses about the Constitution are up against a variety of myths, misrepresentations, and smears like these not only against specific Justices such as Justice Thomas, but also about the Constitution, specific cases, American history, and many other topics, perpetrated by high school history and government courses, college history and government courses and the media on the unsuspecting students they claim to educate. Justice Thomas may be the foremost advocate of neutral principles for interpreting the Constitution since the Weschler, Miller, Howell debates on the pages of the elite law reviews

  19. Justice Thomas is what his critics would like to be, a independent, red blooded, real life adult.
    Other than Jesus Christ, I can think of no other man who has been so castigated by those who know nothing about him.
    The real Uncle Tom’s and Aunt Thomasina’s reside on the liberal left side of the aisle scared to death to stray from the plantation and have an independent thought.
    The very idea that a Washington Post or any other so-called writer or scribe could come close to this man’s intellect is laughable.
    Oh by the way, in the words of another black liberal, this is just one black man’s opinion.

  20. Seems that a local woman named Deborah Cavallario wasn’t keen on her neighbor living with his fiance and two friends

  21. contemptible, especially because no Supreme Court justice

  22. 2003 case Virginia v. Black, which involved a state law criminalizing

  23. 00 years of lynching and activity in the South” by the

  24. I just realized this was written in 2002. I wonder what the gun crime rate is now. Any government that tells you that you have no right to self defense is not looking after your best interest. Self defense is the most basic right anyone has. No government or police can protect you. I can’t believe you all allow this to continue. I keep a gun at home for self defense and have a license to carry it concealed any where I go. And I do. If I am attacked then at least I have a chance to stay alive. By the time the police arrive they can either arrange for my body to be picked up or take a statement from me. I choose the later. Britons let a right be taken from them and now it will be much harder to get it back. But you should try.
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  34. Interesting you should say that. California’s gun control laws came into existence under Reagan’s administration, specifically because the Black Panthers were going about armed and thereby “intimidating” local “law enforcement”.

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