Re: Reid’s Negro Problem

by Jonathan H. Adler

Might Senator Reid just have a problem with “negro” accomplishments? His remarks about then-candidate Obama remind me of his offensively dismissive comments about Justice Clarence Thomas from December 2004. Back then, Reid called Thomas an “embarrassment” on the court because “his opinions are poorly written.” Yet when asked to support his charge, Reid fell flat, making patently false claims about Thomas’s opinions (among other things). Significantly, Reid did not simply criticize Thomas for being too conservative or too willing to overturn precedent. Instead, in an effort to distinguish Thomas from Scalia, he suggested that Justice Thomas was not up to the job and that Thomas wrote at a grade-school level. For those who follow the Supreme Court, Reid’s comments were ignorant and absurd, but also somewhat predictable as they played upon the stereotype of Justice Thomas as an affirmative-action baby who was not qualified to be on the court. Rep. Melvin Watt, then-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, reportedly wrote Reid to caution him against making such comments, particularly insofar as they play upon racial stereotypes and caricatures. Apparently Reid was unable to follow Representative Watt’s advice.

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