Politics & Policy

Doubting Thomas

What exactly is Barack Obama's problem with Clarence Thomas?

Asked to pick his least favorite Supreme Court justice on Saturday, Barack Obama named Clarence Thomas.

Rick Warren, pastor of the evangelical Saddleback Church, asked, “which existing Supreme Court justice would you not have nominated?”

Obama responded: “I don’t think he was an exp . . . ” — he then caught himself — “a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation.”

Although a choice sure to fire up his Left base, it was a curious answer, if you consider the record — even beyond the fact that Obama didn’t believe Thomas was qualified to be one of nine in the Supreme Court when Obama’s not quite uber-experienced to be one of one in the White House.

Was it that Barack Obama didn’t like Justice Thomas’s vote on the recent child-rapist case, Kennedy v. Louisiana? No, that couldn’t be it. Barack Obama agreed with Thomas on that decision. Justice Ginsburg, meanwhile — a liberal favorite on the Court, whom John McCain listed as one of his least favorite justices during the same forum — opposed giving child rapists the death penalty. So what’s so wrong about Thomas and so right about, say, Ginsberg, Senator Obama? Explain the logic. He can’t, of course, and still win an election — which is why he agreed with Thomas.

Was it that Barack Obama didn’t like Justice Thomas’s vote on the recent D.C. gun-ban case? Nope; that couldn’t be it either. Barack Obama wound up ultimately agreeing with Thomas and the majority on that one too.

Justice Ginsburg, on the other hand, had issues with the Second Amendment in that case. But you would nominate Justice Ginsburg, Senator Obama?

Did Obama disagree with Justice Thomas on the recent cross-burning case, Virginia v. Black? Obama’s favorite justice, Justice Ginsburg, wrote that cross-burning bans are constitutionally suspect. Justice Thomas disagreed and wrote a passionate dissent. During oral arguments he said: “There’s no other purpose to the cross, no communication, no particular message. . . . [It] was intended to cause fear and to terrorize a population.” Does Obama take issue with the impassioned Thomas dissent?

If only left-wing Supreme Court Enemy #1 Justice Thomas were more open to legislating from the judicial bench. Perhaps if he were comfortable with the judicial branch making up laws establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage or legal rights for partial-birth abortion or for foreign terrorists he would be the ideal justice for a Barack Obama administration.

Barack Obama’s answer to Rick Warren’s Supreme Court question was telling. Elections matter. As one politico with experience on Supreme Court fights put it Saturday night, “regardless of what Obama might say about particular decisions, Obama’s justices would not only presumably make up these new rights — they would strip us of our Second Amendment rights while giving child rapists more rights and taking away the rights of the people through their legislators to make these important decisions.” But don’t expect Barack Obama to address any of those actual details.

In his memoir, My Grandfather’s Son, Clarence Thomas wrote: “I knew that in Washington, what matters is not what you do but what people can be made to think you’ve done.” Barack Obama is at least experienced enough to know that.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.

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