Bench Memos

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Snipe Hunt


Our local fishwrap carries Ellen Goodman, thereby doing me the service of forcing me to notice her on occasion.  Today her column, devoted to her splenetic thoughts on Clarence Thomas and his opinion in last week’s Parents Involved case, presents me with a real pedagogical device.  I imagine handing it out to my students and saying to them, “Spot the argument.”

It would be a trick question.  She hasn’t any argument.  She has guilt by association (“the man who officiated at Rush Limbaugh’s wedding”).  She uses the patter of the liberal racist as though it were her first nature, not her second (concerned that Thomas “is now talked about even less [than ever] in terms of race” and is therefore not a fit “sucessor to Thurgood Marshall,” Goodman writes that we should “[c]olor him conservative”).  She–unwittingly?–evinces an open embrace of elitism, as though the proletariat really needed its vanguard (quoting Thomas’s line to “beware of elites bearing racial theories,” Goodman writes: “So much for a half-century of civil rights”).  She has the patented Goodman sneer (“Honk if you believe Anita now”).

But using the term strictly, to refer to coherent premises, evidence, and nonfallacious reasoning, what Goodman hasn’t got is an argument that Thomas said anything factually, legally, or constitutionally mistaken in his capacity as a Supreme Court justice.


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