Friday, September 28, 2007

Clarence Thomas and Rush Limbaugh

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas starts a media tour this weekend to promote his new memoir, My Grandfather's Son.

Apparently, his media blitz will include an appearance Monday with controversial conservative talk-radio host, Rush Limbaugh.

I find this rather astonishing.

Limbaugh's over-the-top, racially-loaded commentaries are replete and well documented online. Here is but one example:

... Limbaugh referred to Obama as the "Magic Negro" 27 times during the broadcast and at one point sang "Barack, the Magic Negro" to the tune of "Puff, the Magic Dragon."

Beyond that, on Monday, the very day Limbaugh's interview with Justice Thomas is to be broadcast, a resolution will be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Mark Udall, condemning Limbaugh for his recent, objectionable comments regarding American soldiers who oppose extended war in Iraq. Media Matters has those details:

During the September 26 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh called service members who advocate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq "phony soldiers."

By keeping public company with the often-distasteful and always hyper-partisan Limbaugh, Justice Thomas does very little to enhance the Supreme Court's dignity or to maintain its critical appearance of impartiality.

This scheduled interview does not reflect a high standard of appropriate judicial reserve. Rather, it demonstrates questionable judgment by the learned Judge.

The Limbaugh issue, however, will quickly pale in comparison to the apparently incendiary contents of the memoir itself.


On to the Thomas book.

The Washington Post describes it today as an angry, lashing out by the Supreme Court Judge:

Justice Thomas Lashes Out in Memoir

Justice Clarence Thomas settles scores in an angry and vivid forthcoming memoir, scathingly condemning the media, the Democratic senators who opposed his nomination to the Supreme Court, and the "mob" of liberal elites and activist groups that he says desecrated his life.

Thomas a detailed description of the confirmation hearings that electrified the nation in 1991 and the sexual harassment allegations by Anita Hill that he said destroyed his reputation.

..."The mob I now faced carried no ropes or guns," Thomas writes of his hearings. "Its weapons were smooth-tongued lies spoken into microphones and printed on the front pages of America's newspapers. . . . But it was a mob all the same, and its purpose -- to keep the black man in his place -- was unchanged."

Describing Democrats who opposed his nomination to the Court at the 1991 Senate confirmation hearings, Thomas says:

"As a child in the Deep South, I'd grown up fearing the lynch mobs of the Ku Klux Klan; as an adult, I was starting to wonder if I'd been afraid of the wrong white people all along," he writes. "My worst fears had come to pass not in Georgia, but in Washington, D.C., where I was being pursued not by bigots in white robes but by left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony."

(Makes you want to take a second look at his vote in Bush v. Gore, doesn't it?)

On that note, see Richard K. Neumann, Jr.'s 2003 article, Conflicts of interest in Bush v. Gore: Did some justices vote illegally? (Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics):

In the Senate, Justice Thomas was confirmed by the smallest margin in history-forty-eight senators against him and only fifty-two in favor.

Al Gore, then a senator from Tennessee, voted nay.

Justice Thomas displayed considerable bitterness at the time, describing his confirmation hearings as "a high-tech lynching." Little since then suggests that he has lost that bitterness entirely.

Did it create an appearance of partiality against Gore-for Gore's opposition to Justice Thomas' confirmation-that would have required Justice Thomas to recuse himself under [sec] 455(a)? (emphasis added - GJW)

That is clearly water under the bridge, at this point.

The broader question, however, is whatever happened in America to that quaint, old notion that sitting Judges ought to refrain from public commentaries that might incite unnecessary controversy or foreseeably generate public uncertainty as to the objectivity of the Bench?

More excerpts from the Thomas memoir are here.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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