Bench Memos

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A Truly Fein Mess of an Argument


Now “chairman” of something called the “American Freedom Agenda,” the increasingly ridiculous Bruce Fein attacks Justice Clarence Thomas in the letters column of the New York Times today.  What is the cause of his ire?  He’s upset at “Thomas’s deprecation of ‘rights’ or ‘grievances’ in favor of ‘obligations’ and ‘responsibilities.’”

Fein is responding to a story that ran a few days ago in the Times, reporting on a visit Thomas paid to a bunch of high school kids who’d won an essay contest sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute.  Leaving aside reporter Adam Liptak’s characterizations of what Thomas said, here are all the actual quotations of Thomas to which Fein was reacting:

“Today there is much focus on our rights,” Justice Thomas said. “Indeed, I think there is a proliferation of rights.”

“I am often surprised by the virtual nobility that seems to be accorded those with grievances,” he said. “Shouldn’t there at least be equal time for our Bill of Obligations and our Bill of Responsibilities?”

He gave examples: “It seems that many have come to think that each of us is owed prosperity and a certain standard of living. They’re owed air-conditioning, cars, telephones, televisions.”

Those are luxuries, Justice Thomas said.

Fein’s reaction?  This is “counterhistorical and counterconstitutional.”  This “abandon[s] reverence for rights and respect for grievances,” and thus “dishonor[s] the Republic envisioned by the founding fathers.”

Um, yeah, I could see those points, if Thomas had actually been talking about the real rights that are enshrined in the Constitution.  But he wasn’t, as any fool can see by reading the passage above.  He was talking to high school kids, and telling them to get over themselves, and that they shouldn’t believe the world owes them everything it may strike their fancy to desire.  This honors the true spirit of our founding.  The “proliferation of rights” having no basis in our fundamental law and constitutional principles is what dishonors that spirit.

Fein even has the gall to throw the Declaration of Independence in Justice Thomas’s face.  Yes, that would be Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court justice who, more than any other in living memory, has thought, spoken, and written, on and off the bench, about the vital principles of the the Declaration as the foundation of our constitutional order.

Time for Bruce Fein to teach his grandma to suck eggs.


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