Law & the Courts

The Ignorant Freakout over Clarence Thomas

Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Who knew that inherent rights are a political bombshell?

Justice Clarence Thomas set off a controversy in his dissent in the Supreme Court’s gay-marriage decision by reciting core American beliefs about the innate dignity and rights of all persons, whatever their circumstances or the injustices done to them. He wrote that even people held in slavery, even people interned during World War II, retained their dignity because it is impossible to erase what is woven into our very nature.

What one would think is a stirring statement about our irreducible human quality occasioned outrage among the justice’s critics. Slate considered the passage “brutal.” MSNBC found it “jaw dropping.” Salon called it “vile.” But none could top the gay actor and activist George Takei — famous as Sulu in “Star Trek” — who fumed that Thomas had forfeited his status as a black man.

Seriously. In a TV interview, Takei called Thomas “a clown in blackface.” Amid a backlash over this insult, he doubled down: “I feel Justice Thomas has abdicated and abandoned his African-American heritage by claiming slavery did not strip dignity from human beings.” Takei the would-be racial arbiter eventually apologized, although he still thinks Thomas is “deeply wrong.”

RELATED: We Have Officially Reached Peak Leftism

That Takei’s first instinct was to deny the blackness of Clarence Thomas tells us much about the rancid racial essentialism of the Left, which can’t get its head around minorities stepping out of ideological line.

That aside, the Left’s freakout is remarkable, since what Thomas wrote represents American Founding 101. Where did Thomas get this outlandish notion of rights and dignity that exist prior to government?

Maybe Thomas Jefferson? “We do not claim these,” he wrote of our natural rights, “under the charters of kings or legislators, but under the King of kings.” Or John Adams? He wrote of rights “antecedent to all earthly government,” “that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws,” “derived from the great Legislator of the universe.”

One wonders if anyone disturbed by the Thomas dissent glanced at the Declaration of Independence over the July 4th weekend.

One wonders if anyone disturbed by the Thomas dissent glanced at the Declaration of Independence over the July 4th weekend. It says, as Thomas notes, all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” In case there’s any misunderstanding, the good folks at Merriam-Webster define unalienable as “impossible to take away or give up.”

This is a truth that abolitionists wielded against the institution of slavery. The foremost of them, Frederick Douglass, held it strongly. He declared once after suffering a rank act of discrimination: “They cannot degrade Frederick Douglass. The soul that is within me no man can degrade. I am not the one that is being degraded on account of this treatment, but those who are inflicting it upon me.” (Quick — someone ask George Takei if Frederick Douglass was truly black.)

RELATED: Why Does the Left Continue to Lie About Its Ideological Agenda?

The reaction to the Thomas dissent is, in part, about the historical and philosophical illiteracy of his critics. But they also have a profoundly different worldview. The Founders believed we have innate rights that must be protected from government. As Thomas writes, “Our Constitution — like the Declaration of Independence before it — was predicated on a simple truth: One’s liberty, not to mention one’s dignity, was something to be shielded from — not provided by — the State.”

#related#This notion is anathema to a Left that identifies the state with progress, and that defines freedom much more loosely (not to say nonsensically) as including what government gives us, in an ever-expanding palette of benefits.

Thomas is the one firmly grounded in the best of the American tradition, even if his clueless attackers don’t get it. Some of them acted as if he is somehow ignorant of the nature of slavery, even though his forebears were slaves and he grew up in abject poverty in the Jim Crow South. Justice Thomas doesn’t just understand more about the reality of racial discrimination than his critics, but more about America and its ideals.

They should keep reading his opinions. Maybe they will learn something.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2015 King Features Syndicate

Most Popular

Searching for a Sign

I’ve been waiting for almost six months to see a Biden-Harris yard sign in my neighborhood. Finally one -- just one -- appeared about two weeks ago. It is large and proud. The homeowners even equipped it with a spotlight, so that it is visible at night. I’m surprised, because liberal political yard signs ... Read More

Searching for a Sign

I’ve been waiting for almost six months to see a Biden-Harris yard sign in my neighborhood. Finally one -- just one -- appeared about two weeks ago. It is large and proud. The homeowners even equipped it with a spotlight, so that it is visible at night. I’m surprised, because liberal political yard signs ... Read More
White House

Hell, Yes

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more pros and cons on voting for President Trump, further essays on the subject, each from a different perspective, can be found here, here, here, here, and here. These articles, and the one below, reflect the views of the individual authors, not of the National ... Read More
White House

Hell, Yes

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more pros and cons on voting for President Trump, further essays on the subject, each from a different perspective, can be found here, here, here, here, and here. These articles, and the one below, reflect the views of the individual authors, not of the National ... Read More
Media

About That ‘Uncoverable’ Biden Story

Journalists claim they can’t cover the New York Post’s Hunter Biden email scoop because the underlying evidence has yet to been verified. Also, they won’t look for any verifying evidence because there isn’t enough evidence. It’s quite the conundrum. Because other than the now-corroborated emails, ... Read More
Media

About That ‘Uncoverable’ Biden Story

Journalists claim they can’t cover the New York Post’s Hunter Biden email scoop because the underlying evidence has yet to been verified. Also, they won’t look for any verifying evidence because there isn’t enough evidence. It’s quite the conundrum. Because other than the now-corroborated emails, ... Read More

Another Pollster Sees a Trump Win

The Trafalgar Group’s Robert Cahaly is an outlier among pollsters in that he thinks President Trump will carry Michigan, Pennsylvania, or both, and hence be reelected with roughly 280 electoral votes. (I explained his thinking here.) Last week another pollster, Jim Lee of Susquehanna Polling and Research, ... Read More

Another Pollster Sees a Trump Win

The Trafalgar Group’s Robert Cahaly is an outlier among pollsters in that he thinks President Trump will carry Michigan, Pennsylvania, or both, and hence be reelected with roughly 280 electoral votes. (I explained his thinking here.) Last week another pollster, Jim Lee of Susquehanna Polling and Research, ... Read More
Economics

Dire Rates: The Biden Tax Plan

Despite the whopping 33.1 percent increase in third-quarter GDP, the economy is on extremely thin ice. GDP is currently about 3.5 percent below where it started in January, a drop that, if it happened all of a sudden, would signal the terrifying start of a deep recession. To be sure, policymakers should be ... Read More
Economics

Dire Rates: The Biden Tax Plan

Despite the whopping 33.1 percent increase in third-quarter GDP, the economy is on extremely thin ice. GDP is currently about 3.5 percent below where it started in January, a drop that, if it happened all of a sudden, would signal the terrifying start of a deep recession. To be sure, policymakers should be ... Read More