Clarence Thomas, illiterate

So says Senator Harry Reid, I suppose. The new Minority Leader had some choice words for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on NBC News’ Meet The Press this past Sunday:

MR. RUSSERT: Why couldn’t you accept Clarence Thomas?
SEN. REID: I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written. I don’t–I just don’t think that he’s done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.

The man who delivers speeches like this and writes opinions like this is “an embarrassment”? Senator Reid doesn’t say that about Justice Antonin Scalia, another conservative on the Court whose opinions track closely with those of Justice Thomas. In fact, Reid could see himself supporting Scalia’s nomination as Chief Justice if it comes right down to it. What could explain the difference in Senator Reid’s attitude?

Justice Thomas
Justice Thomas
Justice Scalia
Justice Scalia

Gimme a minute, I’m sure it’ll come to me eventually.

UPDATE: Told you so.

19 comments

  1. jri

    this is great! Do you have any other evidence that Reid is a racist? Like speaking before the Sons of the Confederacy or support the Council of Conservative Citizens. Maybe he made a speech supportive of Bob Jones University? I like where you are going with your inference, but I think that you need more to really drive home the racist charge.

  2. Cody Cox

    Fantastic work. Except that the word illiterate doesn’t appear anywhere near Clarence Thomas on Reid’s website. Or anywhere in the media. Or anywhere at all.
    But keep up the baseless charges!! Go republicans!!

  3. Puddle Pirate

    Cody, help me out. What does Senator Reid mean when he said that Justice Thomas’ “opinions are poorly written”?
    He didn’t say they’re “poorly reasoned.” If he disapproved of Thomas’ reasoning then logically he’d also disapprove of Scalia’s reasoning, which is just as conservative. But we know that isn’t Reid’s objection. What other meaning can you offer me for Reid’s “poorly written” than “insufficiently literate”?

  4. tfred

    Most writers and readers understand that the quality of a piece of writing reflects somehow on the quality of mind of the writer. This is so obvious a point that perhaps even a US senator would get it, so perhaps this is what Reid was tring to say.
    You say: “If he disapproved of Thomas’ reasoning then logically he’d also disapprove of Scalia’s reasoning, which is just as conservative.”
    You apparently believe that conservatism is the only significant quality reasoning need have — that there might not be good or bad conservative reasoning. Or perhaps you bank on the fact that as liberals far as liberals are concerned, all conservatives think alike.
    Perhaps Reid — like me — disapproves of the some of the conclusions and decisions both Thomas and Scalia come to but find Scalia’s rigor and intellect evident in that process more impressive. Perhaps Reid sees Scalia as a great (if misguided) legal mind and a leader while Thomas is something less original, a follower, and that if we’re going to have to choose one of them as chief justice, better to go with the strongest, most original mind.

  5. Puddle Pirate

    Maybe you’re right, and maybe I’m misreading Senator Reid. Your explanation’s possible. But before I buy it, show me evidence that supports your theory. Which opinions does Senator Reid object to, and why? How did Scalia’s reasoning differ in those cases, and how was it superior to Thomas’? Also, try quantifying Justice Thomas’ status as a “Scalia follower”, perhaps by comparing all nine Justices’ opinions to each other to see how many times each one ended up agreeing with whichever one of the other eight you care to choose. Then maybe I’ll buy your explanation.
    Until then I’ll opt for Occam’s Razor and not make more assumptions than needed to explain what Senator Reid said.

  6. shoveldog

    Okay, your minute’s up. If it hasn’t yet come to you, the difference is that Scalia’s questions and comments from the bench are the unmistakable indication of a keen if misguided intellect. Like Bush, Thomas can be well-packaged; despite the fact that he almost never speaks during an argument, he can sign an opinion drafted by his clerks, and he can deliver a speech written by someone else. Scalia, with whom I often disagree, needs no such crutches.

  7. Never Sway

    The Not-So-Moderate Harry Reid

    Touted as a moderate, mild-mannered Mormon from Nevada, Harry Reid was promoted to Senate minority leader after the election loss of Tom Daschle as someone who could “build bridges” to the Republican Party. Well, it seems Mr. Reid has hit the grou…

  8. DavidH

    Until then I’ll opt for Occam’s Razor and not make more assumptions than needed to explain what Senator Reid said.
    This means you’re not going to make the assumption that Reid is a racist, and you’ll just take what he said at face value, right?

  9. Puddle Pirate

    Until I see more evidence to the contrary, I’ll take it as what it sounded like: “Clarence Thomas has committed the unpardonable sin of leaving the Democrat plantation and succeeding on his own merits.”

  10. debby sadler

    Numerous constitutional scholars find Thomas to be a hanger on with little intellectual prowess displayed in his opinions so quit the race baiting.

  11. Puddle Pirate

    Shoveldog, you’re equating silence during oral arguments with stupidity. Are the most talkative Justices the smartest ones? Please share your understanding of the oral argument process at the U.S. Supreme Court, and help me understand why a Justice’s outspokenness there matters at all. How long do arguments last? What’s the usually-stated purpose for having them in the first place? How do they actually turn out most of the time? How often do Justices change their minds based on what they hear at argument? As for the role of law clerks … would you care to summarize their roles at the Court, along with a summary of how each Justice employs his or her clerks? Then I’ll see how well you understand the differences between Scalia’s and Thomas’ jurisprudence. Do you know how many clerks each has? Whether either actually has clerks write his opinions? How often? Ever heard of the clerk pool? Can you explain its functioning? Do you know how opinions are assigned, drafted, revised, and published?
    Or were you just making small talk?

  12. Chet

    Or were you just making small talk?
    I’d be careful, if I were you. You were the one, after all, who began this thread by positing an entire secret racist identity for a public official, a member of the party that continually stresses diversity and equality of all persons.
    How about this. The guy said something stupid, like anyone might. Occam’s Razor dictates that we not attribute to malice what can be explained by mistake.

  13. DavidH

    And, to clarify:
    In that second-to-last paragraph, by “general opinion” I meant the general opinion of the broad public, not the general opinion of constitutional scholars.

  14. shoveldog

    No small talk, Puddle Pirate, but I’m going to have to get back to you, I’m in court, due back at 2:00, and I’ll be there for the rest of the week. Yes, I do have an understanding of the topics you raise, and while I haven’t argued before the US Supreme Court, I have argued before my state’s Supreme Court, most recently in September of this year. Your response raises valid questions, and I will respond, hopefully tonight.

  15. shoveldog

    Okay, I admit it: participation vs. nonparticipation in oral argument is no indication of intelligence. In fact, such a suggestion would be every bit as asinine as the assertion that someone is a racist simply because they happen to criticize someone who is black. Especially with absolutely no other indication of racism. With respect to Thomas, however, I am certainly not the first to suggest that he is a comparative lightweight among his colleagues. His experience was an issue at his confirmation, his references to “natural law” are troubling, many find his opinions to be inconsistent and occasionally less than well grounded, and yes, I find his silence on the bench troubling. Not necessarily as an indication that he’s “stupid” (your word, not mine) but because I would like to see more of his contemporaneous thought processes. We’re talking about a potential Chief Justice here, and I, for one, feel that post deserves a stronger personality, someone who takes the lead occasionally.
    Notice that in my initial comment I said there was no doubt as to Scalia’s intellect, not that Thomas’ intellect necessarily suffers by comparison, (although I actually think it does). My point was that with Thomas, we really just don’t get to see enough of how the man thinks. And while I don’t really believe the oft-repeated charge that he is manipulated by his law clerks, it would certainly be nice to see him give us a little insight into his thought by actually participating in an oral argument. After all, we’re not privy to what goes on in chambers.
    And, notice that I am not suggesting Thomas is a “yes man” for Antonin Scalia That label might have been more accurate earlier in his career, but at this point, the evidence just isn’t there. I’m more concerned with his lack of consistency, as per the recent articles regarding his willingness to reconsider precedent on a wide range of constitutional issues.
    And yes, I know all about the operation of the Court, its clerks, and the way opinions are assigned and written. Apparently, you have some knowledge in this area yourself. And, as a knowledgeable guy, I’d be willing to bet you also know Reid isn’t a racist, and that there’s not a shred of evidence to support that charge, including the comments you cite. The point of my comment was to indicate that, valid or not, Reid’s criticism of Thomas is hardly novel, and you harm your credibility when you seriously suggest a racial basis for his comments. But then, I knew before I commented that you weren’t serious. You’re just working the refs.

  16. Alex

    Again, the challenge keeps going unanswered: which opinions of Thomas’s are “not well reasoned,” “poorly grounded,” etc.? Name a couple of them, please, and tell us what failings you see in them.
    I don’t always agree with Thomas, but I did find his dissent in Grutter v. Bollinger a very powerful and, yes, well-written statement of what he finds wrong with racial preferences. Among other criticisms, he thinks that preferences create a stigma among the groups who are their beneficiaries, the feeling (and the often unexpressed perception in others) that they could not succeed but for being given preferential treatment based on race, which diminishes the value of their achievements. Part of why I found this statement of his so powerful is that Thomas has become a victim of that very accusation by his ideological critics — e.g. despite his having graduated at or near the top of his class from undergrad, the fact that there was an affirmative action program in place at Yale when he was admitted has led his critics to accuse that he wouldn’t have gotten in to Yale without it. That charge has never been proven, but it certainly provides his enemies with plenty of ammunition against him. Thomas would prefer that minorities be held to the same high standards as everyone else, so their achievements won’t be diminished by the stigma of preferences. Admittedly this view is not without problems, such as the fact that following it as policy will make it take much longer to achieve equality of results. But rather than address his arguments on their merits, Thomas’s critics resort to name-calling and ad hominem attacks.
    And there most definitely is a racial angle to the criticism of Thomas, but it’s too simplistic to just call it “racism.” Rather, it’s an extremely nasty vindictiveness on the left for black conservatives (or any minority conservatives, really — e.g. Linda Chavez) who disagree with the left’s views on what policies are best for minorities. The views of Thomas, Chavez, Rice, Janice Rogers Brown, and other minority conservatives are to the Democrats what apostasy is to religious fanatics, and people on the left are at their most vicious when criticizing minorities who’ve gone off the Democrat plantation. “Uncle Tom” and “Aunt Jemima” epithets directed at Thomas and Rice are one common example.

  17. shoveldog

    I agree in general with your last paragraph; it is much more difficult for a black person to be a conservative than for his or her white counterparts. However, the issue plays both ways. While liberals seem to resent black conservatives, conservatives seem to highlight them, as if their conservatism is somehow more important because they’re minorities. Both positions are equally silly.
    As to the specific issue of racism, however, it gets a bit more complicated. If blacks feel that Thomas has sold out his race, that’s different than liberals feeling that he’s somehow betrayed their ideology. I am a white male, and I do not for a moment mean to tell blacks how they should feel about Thomas’ positions on affirmative action. In general, though, with respect to liberal vs. conservative ideology only, I concur.
    As to Thomas’ opinions, I’ll be glad to argue specifics with you when I have a moment; it’s not something I’ve looked at recently. In general, though, I think Thomas has struggled to overcome the perception that he’s Scalia’s lapdog, and in so doing, he’s gone out on some limbs with regard to ignoring precedent in order to convince observers he’s his own man. Can’t remember the name of the case right now, but one of his dissents in a Commerce Clause case seemed to me to be a real stretch, and I could only attribute it to the motivation I mention. That’s about all I can manage in the ten minutes I’ve got right now.