When deciding on a judge, there only seemed to be one choice and that was Justice Clarence Thomas. Currently, Justice Thomas is the only African American Justice on the United States Supreme court, and in a day that cries and demands for diversity, appeared to be an intriguing fact. How does he rule his decisions and state his opinions? Is there a recollection of his past youth experiences where he was a victim of racism or does he carry a modern conservative view point? Various articles refer to him as a seriously conservative perspective among the Justices.
Justice Thomas was born as one three siblings in Pin Point, Georgia, a community founded by the freed slaves, and thusly was a majority of African American members (Supreme Court Review). Thomas described Pin Point as smaller than a town and that many necessities weren’t easily accessible. For example, because doctors were so scarce, that when one become sick, they are sick until their death (Supreme Court Review). During his childhood, the family faced several challenges including the abandonment of his father and becoming homeless due to a home fire (Supreme Court Review). Eventually, he and his siblings went to live with their grandparent where they “experienced indoor plumbing and regular meals for the first time” and began attending the Roman Catholic Church (Supreme Court Review).
Justice Thomas credits all of his work ethic, self reliance and educational achievement to his grandfather who own and managed a “fuel and ice delivery business” (Supreme Court). Upon high school graduation, Justice Thomas pursued priesthood at St. John Vianney Minor Seminary, where he was the only black student and faced forms of racism (Supreme Court Review). From there he ventured off to Immaculate Conception Seminary in Missouri and then College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts where racism would continue to appear, which lead Justice Thomas to help found the Black Students Union (Supreme Court Review).
During all of this, he questioned the church’s passive view for civil rights (Ovyez). It made no sense that the one institution designed to address the needs of communities, remained silent on such important issues. It wasn’t until the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 where he would drop his studies of priesthood (ovyez).
It was from this point, his major changed to English Literature and his passion for civil right directed him towards working in law (Ovyez). He engaged in many political causes and activities including a protest against the war in Vietnam (Biography, 2016). Thomas confessed that he was impacted by aspects of both Malcolm X and the Black Panthers (Cummings, 2005). The irony is that Thomas would’ve likely been drafted to Vietnam if he hadn’t failed a medical examination “due to curvature of the spine” (Supreme Court Review).
Once he graduated from Holy Cross, Thomas ventured off to Yale Law School. There he graduated as middle ground student as well as became a father (Supreme Court Review). After his law school graduation, he applied and was interviews at various law firms with no success; many of these firm trusted that Thomas only made it into law school based on affirmative action and not on his own merit (Supreme Court Review).
It was the difficulty of the finding employment which lead Thomas to his distain towards affirmative action (Oyez). Cummings (2005) in his paper, “The Sun Don’t Shine Here in This Part of Town”, references that affirmative action can been seen as “reverse racism.” Justice Thomas, concerning the case of Grutter v. Bollinger, compares affirmative action as a form of racial discrimination. Reason being is that rather than accepting students for their merits schools, in a hope to achieve greater diversity, use affirmative action to generate that diversity (Cummings, 2005). As a response to his own criticism of school’s use of affirmative action, he suggested that schools lower their standard in order to achieve the desired diversity (Cummings, 2005).
Thomas later regretted attending Yale due to the affirmative action allegations and in biography; he stated he felt that he was granted a discount degree for his skin color (Supreme Court Review). Eventually Thomas returned to Missouri and began working for Attorney General John Danforth, prosecuting both “criminal and civil cases for the state of Missouri” (Supreme Court Review). In regards to his position there, he referred to it as the best job he ever acquired (Supreme Court Review). When Danforth became a senator, Thomas went on to be an attorney for Monsanto, an agricultural and pesticide corporation for several years (Biography, 2016).
After leaving Monsanto, Thomas moved to Washington DC where Senator Danforth offered Thomas to be his legislative aid regarding energy issues (Supreme Court Review). While in Washington D.C., Thomas served as Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education and was even appointed by President Reagan as the Chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Oyez). After the eight years as Chairman of the EEOC, Thomas was nominated by President Bush in 1989 for a seat in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Biography, 2015). This was Thomas’ only time as a judge prior to his nomination to the Supreme Court by President Bush in 1991 (Supreme Court Review).
Justice Thomas was immediately greeted with criticism and negative feedback regarding his appointment to the court. A major factor to the criticism concerns his predecessor, Thurgood Marshall whom was the first African American judge and a polar opposite ofThomas (Doyle, 2015). Thomas brought a strong conservative perspective to the court replacing the “liberal giant and trailblazer”, and many in the African American Community believed he had not connection with them, going as far to discredit his ethnic pride (Doyle, 2015).
Famous Civil Rights Activists Jesse Jackson referred to Justice Thomas as a betrayal to the heritage of the struggle of civil rights, and Representative Major Owens went as far as making a comparison to Benedict Arnold (Sigelman & Todd, 1992). Other criticisms sound as if from the mouth of a 3rd grader. For example, some say “Thomas is lazy” due to his lack of questions during the course of oral argument (Doyal, 2015).
The strong conservative values are an easy target by liberal opposers concerning Justice Thomas. He has expressed of possessing libertarian values in addition to his conservatism (Sigelman and Todd, 2005). This would further separate himself from the African American community due to less than 20% of African Americans holding libertarian view (Sigelman and Todd, 2005 ). Perhaps it was his experience of self reliance that attributed to his mixed political mentality, as he saw government not as a solution to his problems but a problem itself (Sigelman and Todd, 20055). Several of his views regarding civil right can be seen as demeaning and practically insulting to opposite party members. He has voted against same sex marriage and argued against the comparison of equal marriage rights to the antimiscegenation laws, as these laws were established due to slavery (On The Issues). His viewpoint on affirmative action was clearly stated earlier, as it discounts and discredits the work and achievements of African Americans (On The Issues). His memoir, My Grandfather’s Son, furthers his viewpoints such as “black problems should be solved by black” people and that “preferential policies should apply” towards disadvantaged whites (On The Issues).
With being a Supreme Court Justice, Thomas is task with stating and writing opinions on several cases; in additition to his dissent and concurrences. Many of his case opinions reflect his conservative values. Provided below are several of Thomas court opinions.
In the case of Good News Club v. Milford Middle School, Stephen and Darleen Fournier wished to use the schools grounds to hold a private Christian club. The school denied stating that by doing so violated a community policy due to its appearance to religious worship. The school argued that the school purpose was: 1) the introduction in education, learning, or the arts and 2)social, civic, recreational and entertainment (Legal Information Institute). In his opinion, Justice Thomas claimed that the school had refused the groups’ right of free speech because of religious discrimination (Supreme Court Review). He also argued that because the group was being held on school grounds that it not threaten, but rather ensure “neutrality towards religion” (Legal Information Institute).
United States v. Madison involved a college freshman whom claimed to be raped my members of the school’s football team. The Court’s decision considered that section of the Violence Against Women’s Act was unconstitutional as it “exceeded congressional power under the Commerce Clause as well as under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution” (Laws). Originally the act’s provisions provided civil remedies where violence occurred due to gender discrimination, and that the remedies can still take effect even without charges being filed (Laws). After one of the students admitted to performing unwanted sexual contact with the victim, punishment intended for the student was discarded by the school’s administration (Laws). Justice Thomas provided the majority opinion, as well as the concurring opinion “which expressed concern about Congress appropriating state police powers under the name of commerce regulation” (Laws).
In Carter v. United States, Floyd J. Carter with a ski mask covering his face enter a bank and stole $16,000 before escaping the scene to eventually be apprehended by local police officers. During the course of the robbery, Carter forced a customer back inside the bank as she was leaving and he was entering it. Based on these facts he was charged and convicted. He argued, however that he had not used force or intimidation in the robbery and motions of a lesser sentence if convicted, a tactic described in §2113(b) (Legal Information Institute). The court ruled that element of a lesser offence need to be demonstrated by the defendant. In Thomas’s opinion he referenced Smuck v. United States, which originally established the need to demonstrate the lesser element of the accused crime, by the dependent. The element required by §2113(b) included that there was an specific intention of theft, there was a act of asporation (detachment or carrying aware of property) and that the theft was beyond $1000 (Legal Information Institute). Thomas therefore agreed that the lower courts were decision to deny motion of the defendant and to affirm the conviction.
In the proceedings of Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, regarding racial classifications over turned the precedent of Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. FCC. The two tier system that was to analyze racial classification, established in the precedent would be replaced as the court’s opinion “held the federal government to equal standards as both the local and state governments by using a process of “reverse incorporation,” which used the Due Process Found in the Fifth Amendment to bind the federal movement to the standards of both state and local governments (Laws). This was another case in which Thomas’s value of the constitution was demonstrated.
Justice Clarence Thomas has been noted as a quiet and silent member of the Supreme Court, but still has left an impactful tenure. He is either admired or ridiculed for his conservative stance and his high regard for upholding the constitution. The challenges and stigma, in which he overcame, are inspiration to which other legal officers should astride to. From the poverty stricken community of Pin Point, Georgia to Washington D.C., and from the abandoned childhood to the United States Supreme Court, Justice Thomas’ journey demonstrates the reward of thrive and strong work ethic. Though he is often mocked and criticized he values his position as he fights to up hold constitutional values in the many case that are send to the Supreme Court. As of now he has no intention of retiring or stepping down, and will continue to hear and argue cases for the betterment of citizens of the United States of America.
Bio Editors. (2016). Clarence Thomas. Biography. Web Retrieved From: http://www.biography.com/people/clarence-thomas-9505658#synopsis
Cummings, Andre’ Dougals Pond. (2005). Grutter v. Bollinger, Clarence Thomas, Affirmative Action and The Treachury of Originalism: “The Sun Don’t Shine Here In This Part of Town.” EBSCO Host. Web. Retrieved from: http://web.a.ebscohost.com.proxy.ccis.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=d2641d86-c294-4d53-89c0-d07d899fc76d%40sessionmgr4009&vid=5&hid=4201
Doyle, Ty. (2005). Why is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas so Viscerally Disrespected. Quora . Web. Retrieved from: https://www.quora.com/Why-is-Supreme-Court-Justice-Clarence-Thomas-so-viscerally-disrespected
Laws. (n.d.) Clarence Thomas. Supreme Court Laws. Web. Retrieved from: http://supreme-court.laws.com/clarence-thomas
Legal Information Institute (n.d.) Good News Club v. Milford Middle School. Cornell University Law School. Web. Retrieved from: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/99-2036#writing-99-2036.ZO
Legal Information Institute. (n.d.) Carter v. United States. Cornell University Law School. Web. Retrieved from: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/99-5716/#writing-ZO
On The Issues. (n.d.) Clarence Thomas on Civil Rights: Supreme Court Justice. Web. Retrieved from: http://www.ontheissues.org/Court/Clarence_Thomas_Civil_Rights.htm
Sigelman, Lee and Todd, James S. (1992). Clarence Thomas, Black Pluralism, and Civil Rights Policy. The Academy of Political Science. Web. Retrieved From: http://www.jstor.org.proxy.ccis.edu/stable/2152657?origin=crossref&seq=8#page_scan_tab_contents
Supreme Court Review. (n.d.) Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Justice Clarence Thomas. Web. Retrieved from: http://supremecourtreview.com/default/justice/index/id/31
Oyez. (n.d) Clarence Thomas. Web. Retrieved from: https://www.oyez.org/justices/clarence_thomas