Clarence Thomas Is Not An Idiot


Virginia Thomas is, says Justice Clarence Thomas, “my best friend” and “my bride.” She says, “There was a tornado over our wedding when we got married. God knew that we were both troublemakers coming together.” And as a New Yorker profile this week reveals, that’s a fairly apt description.

Though it’s entitled “Partners,” there is less in the piece about the marriage itself beyond the already-visited conflicts of Ginni Thomas’s conservative activism and her obsession with taking down health care reform when her husband is likely to rule on it in the next year or so. Instead, Jeffrey Toobin focuses on illuminating Clarence Thomas’s judicial philosophy, which is actually more extreme than Antonin Scalia’s, despite Thomas’s reputation for falling in line with Scalia. He also makes an even more terrifying point: That Thomas is more influential on the court than ever. (No doubt the seemingly moderate and temperate John Roberts paves the way for this.)

Thomas’s worldview boils down to a sense of grievance at liberal elites, especially at Ivy League schools like the one he went to, for condescending to him, and the firmly-held belief that not only should the constitution be read in the most literal interpretation possible, but previous court decisions count for very little. But contrary to the angle of mockery of the silent justice, he’s not dim, Toobin says:

“In several of the most important areas of constitutional law, Thomas has emerged as an intellectual leader of the Supreme Court…. When it comes to the free-speech rights of corporations, the rights of gun owners, and, potentially, the powers of the federal government…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.

And a liberal law professor says of Thomas and Scalia, “It would not surprise me if future historians find Thomas to be the more intellectually serious of the two.” This matters, because all of the intellectual seriousness in the world can’t mask how incredibly radical Thomas’s worldview is. Its political manifestation is found in the Tea Party, where his wife takes a leading role and says things like, “I’ve never seen, in my thirty years in Washington, an agenda that’s so far left. It’s a radical, leftist agenda that grabs a lot of power to Washington so that Washington élites can pick the winners and losers.” (Today’s example of chosen winners by these radical leftists: The banks.)

A minor irritation in this deeply disturbing turn of events is how Ginni Thomas plays on sexism to act all “aw shucks” about the law to try to avoid conflict of interest charges. “I do policy, he does law, and I don’t understand that world and I’m glad God didn’t tell me to do that, because I don’t know how to do that.” As Toobin points out, Ginni Thomas is a lawyer — not to mention an activist dealing with many of the same issues that come across her husband’s desk.

He also suggests that Thomas made her ridiculously ill-advised call to Anita Hill demanding Hill apologize to her husband because Thomas lives in a world where everyone agrees with her that Anita Hill was a lying bitch. This happens to be the 20th anniversary of Hill’s testimony, which will be marked by a conference put together by Eve Ensler and featuring Maureen Dowd, Edwidge Danticat, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Professor Melissa Harris-Perry, Gloria Steinem, and more. Maybe they should invite Ginni Thomas to give her own apology.

Partners [New Yorker]

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