Justice Thomas Unfairly Portrayed

By Laura A. Ingraham and Stephen F. Smith Washington Post | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 9, 1994 | Go to article overview

Justice Thomas Unfairly Portrayed


Laura A. Ingraham and Stephen F. Smith Washington Post, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


At about this time every year since the bloody 1991 Supreme Court confirmation, a chorus of savage personal attacks rings out in the mainstream media against the character and intellect of Justice Clarence Thomas.

Most noteworthy and disturbing about these assaults is that they almost never critique Thomas the Supreme Court justice - the exponent of limited judicial power and an original-intent approach to constitutional interpretation. The latest ballyhoo surrounds a book, "Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas," written by two Wall Street Journal reporters.

As his law clerks at the Supreme Court, we have spent hundreds of hours with Thomas in a high-pressure working environment and in informal social settings. For us and other clerks, watching the maligning of him as a person has been both heart-wrenching and frustrating.

Although we, too, are constrained by the court practice of keeping confidential in-chambers discussions about particular cases, we can address the most common criticisms of him: wlb

He is disengaged from his work at the court. So wrote David G. Savage last month in the Los Angeles Times Magazine.

We suggest you read his opinions. In his three terms at the court, Thomas has written as many majority opinions as the other sitting justices and indeed produced last term's single longest opinion. Even a cursory analysis leads to the conclusion that Thomas has forthrightly set out his own distinct jurisprudence in areas as diverse as the Voting Rights Act, the Eighth Amendment and labor law.

It is true that the justice seldom speaks at oral argument, but what meaningful conclusion can be drawn from that? To be reserved is not to be passive; the "disengaged" charge was not leveled against other taciturn justices of recent memory. U This criticism is essentially innuendo. There is an answer to this: Read his opinions.

He is angry, bitter and brooding. That was Jeffrey Toobin's thesis in a New Yorker article, "The Burden of Clarence Thomas," in September 1993. What does a Supreme Court justice do to show he is not angry? Should he go on the Letterman show? Should he smile and wave at the press during oral arguments?

When Thomas works out in the court gym every morning or chats with tourists or visits with court staff members outside chambers, it is not reported that these are the activities of someone who is energetic, outgoing and high-spirited. But then again, why should it be? After all, it is no more relevant to his work on the court than are the self-perpetuating accusations leveled by his detractors. …

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