Bench Memos

Re: New Biography of Justice Thomas

I look forward to Ed Whelan’s review of Supreme Discomfort.  Yesterday its authors got the Woodward treatment from their employers at the Washington Post, with a 2,700-word excerpt from the book that began on the front page.  Interesting stuff, I guess, but I felt at the end that it had appealed chiefly to a prurient interest in Clarence Thomas’s private life.  I kind of wanted to wash my hands afterward.  Of biographies it might generally be said that their prying into private lives is more tolerable when their subjects are dead.  If that’s hypocritical, so be it.

The book was reviewed in the same day’s Post by Kenji Yoshino of Yale Law School, who noted that it is “surprisingly short on Thomas’s legal decisions and philosophy.”  That’s a pretty serious shortcoming in a book about a sitting Supreme Court justice.  But Yoshino was not above his own false notes.  It requires advanced training in the law to write a sentence as asinine as this one about originalism: “But what does it mean for Thomas to interpret the Constitution according to the intent of those who would have considered him to be chattel?”  I suppose that if Yoshino were intent on proving that originalism is impossible because the founders’ minds cannot be fathomed at two centuries’ remove, he might be said to have ironically achieved something here–since he has certainly proven that he doesn’t understand them.

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