Bench Memos

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Attacking Clarence Thomas and Proving Him Right


In today’s Washington Post Outlook section, Georgetown law professor Emma Coleman Jordan gives a perfect demonstration of what it means to wear ideological blinkers.  Here’s a precis of her argument: Clarence Thomas complained of a “high-tech lynching” in the Senate Judiciary Committee sixteen years ago.  His book suggests that his background and his experience should give him some insight into the very real lynchings that used to occur in the American South.  But his legal opinions in opposition to every kind of racial preference in favor of blacks support the conclusion that he is not really concerned about their plight at all; he is a hypocrite who cares only about “lynching” when it happens to him.

Yes, that’s her argument–if “argument” is what you want to call it.  Jordan’s take is the sort of implicitly racist view of black Americans to which Clarence Thomas’s memoir is a rebuke–as is the whole life he recounts in that book.  For Jordan, there is just one way a black can view racial preferences–her way, the liberal way, in favor of them.  No other response is adequate or appropriate as a response to the black experience in America.  Certainly for a black person, there is no other recourse aside from endorsing racial preferences that can make his blackness intelligible and coherent.  There is just one way to think black, to be black–and Clarence Thomas deviates from that one way.  Hence his complaints long ago about a “lynching” ring hollow and false for Jordan.

Never mind that Jordan’s argument is also feeble for a law professor.  She evinces not the slightest interest in what the Constitution or the civil rights statutes permit or forbid.  For her, it’s all about results.  But on that score she simply fails to meet Thomas’s argument on the ground he has so ably staked out.  As he cogently argues, what Jordan calls “remedies designed to right discriminatory wrongs” have just replaced one discriminatory wrong with another, and harm those they are ostensibly designed to help.  While Jordan quotes Thomas’s book once or twice, it’s hard to believe she’s actually read it.  Or if she has, its argument has gone right past her without leaving a mark on her consciousness.  In her Post article, she doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of Thomas’s argument, let alone attempt to refute it.  All she can manage is the racist non sequitur of saying, in effect, ”the black man who says ‘lynching’ must say ‘racial preferences.’”

Maybe if Jordan can’t take the time to read Thomas’s book to find his argument (which can be found almost anywhere the book is opened at random), she could read Shelby Steele’s beautifully composed and deeply wise article on Thomas’s book in the latest NR.  If I could make a suggestion to Justice Thomas and his publishers, it is that Steele’s article should be reprinted as a foreword in the paperback edition of the memoir.


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