Thursday, May 8, 2014

Clarence Thomas’s Counterrevolution — Crooked Timber

Fraternity Cover
Clarence Thomas was one of a group of African American recruits
at Holy Cross College who achieved great prominence
Justice Clarence Thomas does not think we are a post-racial society.  Far from it.  His bitter opposition to affirmative action and embrace of a color blind constitution stems from his view of the pervasiveness, even permanence of racism.  Though he benefited from affirmative action at Holy Cross College (see Fraternity - the fine book about Fr. John Brooks recruitment of outstanding African-American students) and perhaps at Yale - he is stung by what he sees as its stigma.

Thomas's despair leads him to believe that all official recognition of race is likely to redound to the detriment not the benefit of its intended beneficiaries.  He is thus able to maintain a sort of black nationalism and originalist conservatism.  Corey Robin - a Brooklyn College political scientist takes a close look at Thomas's peculiar jurisprudence. - gwc
Clarence Thomas’s Counterrevolution — Crooked Timber:
by Corey Robin

But here, I think, is what is surprising about Clarence Thomas: First, he’s a Supreme Court justice who has managed in his jurisprudence to incorporate rather than repudiate some of his early commitments to Black Nationalism and Black Power; I think it’s fair to say no other Supreme Court justice has done that. And, second, Thomas is a constitutional originalist, and a rather radical one at that. Unlike any other justice—not Scalia, not Roberts, not Alito—Thomas wants to restore the Constitution to the meaning it had in 1789.
How Thomas has been able to marry an incredibly bleak vision of the black past, a vision rooted in black nationalism, to a document that is not only the fountainhead of that past but is also, on his account, the source of an alternative black future—not, as Thurgood Marshall and other liberal constitutionalists would have it, because it is a “living Constitution,” but precisely because it is dead: that is the basic puzzle of Clarence Thomas and what makes him, I think, more interesting than many of us realized.
In my paper, I document both Thomas’s involvement as a younger man in the broad milieu of Black Nationalism and how that involvement carries over into his jurisprudence. I use the phrase “broad milieu” deliberately [this graf’s for you, Bloix!]. I don’t want to overstate the depth or intensity of his involvement. Nor do I want to posit a specificity, a precise location, to that involvement, when none is there. Reading Cedric Johnson’s paper on Huey Newton, which Cedric presented yesterday, one sees this deep texture and particularity to the different arguments within the Black Power movement that you simply don’t see in Thomas. Instead you see someone who breathed in the broader atmosphere of Black Power and Black Nationalism, and never, I argue, stopped entirely breathing it. Or at least never stopped breathing part of it.

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