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Scalia, Thomas and the Need for a Black Justice on the Supreme Court

110119_scalia_thomas_ap_605Justice Scalia, in his typical ‘results over consistency’ line of rulings, voted to support DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) on the grounds that the court had no business ignoring the voice of democracy and argued that if Congress and the people in different states vote to discriminate against gays the court has no business ignoring their will. Meanwhile, just the day before, in the VRA (Voting Rights Act) case, Scalia was fine with ignoring the fact congress had reauthorized the Act for the 4th time in 2006 by a huge majority in the House and by a 98-0 vote in the Senate. In that case Scalia argued that sometimes you can’t listen to the voice of democracy because, you know, it sometimes goes against the results he wants.

I should stop here and mention I’m fairly familiar with Scalia’s body of work and have even seen him speak in a person a few times. I personally resent him and his dismissive and condescending attitude towards most people. He is a well-spoken bigot and homophobe and his dissent in this case and others support that claim. Scalia is intellectually bankrupt and attempts to belittle anyone who disagrees with him or who points out his consistent philosophical inconsistencies by making an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ argument that they are just too dumb to understand he isn’t full of shit.

Having said that, I still hold Scalia in more esteem than I do Justice Thomas. Thomas might truly be one of only a fractional percentage of black people in the country opposed to the VRA, and I bet if we checked, we would find that percentage to be the same as the percentage of people suffering from Stockholm syndrome in the general population. This might sound harsh, but keep in mind Thomas didn’t just vote against section 4 of the Act which listed which states got special attention to make sure they don’t discriminate against minorities; he wrote a concurring opinion arguing against section 5 of the VRA and essentially saying the VRA should never be used again. He was the only person on the bench to take this extreme position.

Is Thomas a race trader? I’m not going to call him that, but I will say he is unbelievably naive, ignorant about reality and ungrateful. He is closing doors for un-empowered groups that other people died opening for him. I will also say his presence on the bench has done far more harm to the black community than anything I’m aware of a black person doing since Africans themselves got involved in the slave trade. I very much support the idea that black people should not be defined and boxed-in by societally-imposed racist notions of things like “speaking white,” and only liking certain kinds of music or dating outside of their race. In fact, I firmly believe it would benefit blacks tremendously if there was more diversity in our community in regard to our political thoughts, but republicans’ racial politics makes voting for them extremely unpalatable for most blacks. Regardless, there is still a massive difference between supporting conservative policies and ideas, and denying the existence and effects of racism.

Make no mistake about it; Thomas was appointed to this court by President Bush #1 for the sole purpose of saying there’s a black person on the bench. He’s the ultimate racial quota beneficiary especially considering how under-qualified he was to be appointed to the bench in 1991. But a quota system for the SC to ensure there are minorities and women on the bench is important and appropriate because their presence on the bench is supposed to mean there’s someone there to represent these groups’ common experiences and points of view. At the end of the day, that is what judges are doing whether they want to admit it or not. They’re making rulings that are heavily informed by their views and beliefs, and their views and beliefs are significantly shaped by their personal experiences. But when it comes to Thomas, the person occupying the “black seat” left empty by Thurgood Marshall, a Civil Rights icon, he disagrees with the vast majority of blacks on every social issue relating to or touching on race, including the ones he’s personally benefited from like affirmative action.

Thomas, growing up in the South during segregation, certainly went through many of the same life experiences as other black people. However, he reached entirely different conclusions about what they meant and how they should be addressed, and the end result is the appropriate lessons to be drawn from the common black experience in America are not represented on this court and laws like the VRA are struck down because of it!

I don’t know what’s in Thomas’ heart, he might be sincere in his belief that the best way to beat racism is to act like race doesn’t exist and isn’t an issue in modern society, but it’s not and seemingly every black person in the world knows this but him. But maybe Thomas can be forgiving for his horribly out of touch and flat-out incorrect understanding of the world. After all, he did fall in with conservative thinking early in his career and was rewarded for it heavily. I can imagine that with all the praise and pats on the back he gets from white conservatives for parroting their ideology that he doesn’t feel discriminated against at all. Sadly, it seems Justice Thomas has forgotten the black community is made up of more people than just him and that a lot blacks are still on the outside looking in when it comes to America’s economic and power elites. Still, I would hope at some point he can take a second to look around the room and ask, “Why am I the only brother here?”  

Brian M. Williams
Brian is the author of the recently published travel memoir "Stranger in a Stranger Land: My Six Years in Korea." (Click this profile for more information.) He's also a law school grad with Southern charm and Virginia roots. He recently returned to America after nearly seven years traveling and working abroad. He loves dive bars, international travel and foreign accents. He's particularly good at small talk and was the first person to notice there's no "I" in "team."

2 thoughts on “Scalia, Thomas and the Need for a Black Justice on the Supreme Court

  1. So I’m a month late in reading this, and I think you make a lot of great points. Certainly I’ve never considered Justice Thomas in this light before:”… he did fall in with conservative thinking early in his career and was rewarded for it heavily. I can imagine that with all the praise and pats on the back he gets from white conservatives for parroting their ideology that he doesn’t feel discriminated against at all.” I just thought he was extremely selfish and a mental midget; I thank you for that insight.

    One of my big problems with the politics of those who put Thomas on the bench, and did something very similar years later by putting Palin on the McCain presidential ticket, is that there existed an opportunity – a moment – to put someone amazing on the Supreme Court, someone brilliant and yet espousing the same (for lack of a better word) conservative ideals. Certainly, someone who was black or female – or even both – and brilliant could have been found. Isn’t that what a true patriot does? Go and find the best person for the job, the best person for our beloved country? Yet, with Thomas and also with Palin, the politicians in power chose individuals who fit certain categories but were truly lacking in qualifications and quality. It’s so disturbing to me that they – those in power – were content with such candidates for so many reasons – I’ll mention just three. 1) Either those folks care very little for the law, the processes of government, and/or the system of government itself, so that it seems to them that any old person would be ok, or 2)those folks so fundamentally misunderstand the importance and greatness of diversity – the true strength of the USA -that they place almost no value upon it at all, so why bother getting decent nominees? and 3) these same folks believe the American public too stupid to care and/or too ignorant to really pay attention. All of which is so very sad.

    So what do you think of the current nominee for the SC, Chief Judge Merrick Garland, who very very likely won’t get even a hearing because of the crazypants obstructionist in Congress?

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