Sound judgment, whether inside the courtroom or out, is always the unswerving bodyguard that must accompany top judges. It may have been missing from Justice Thomas for some time.
When the United States Supreme Court ordered a stop to the recount in the 2000 presidential election in its momentous five to four decision, it handed George W. Bush the keys to the White House. It was an astonishing intervention in the democratic process unseen in the history of the nation. The second shoe in that controversial period dropped this week with the release of the autobiography of Justice Clarence Thomas, who was among the majority in Bush v. Gore. In his book, and in a related interview on 60 Minutes, the justice paints a picture that others, especially in the Democratic party in 1991, were out to get him in a way that makes Richard Nixon look like a model of moderation and tolerance. His hostility still is chilling in its depth and emotion.
Here is an excerpt from the 60 Minutes interview:
“This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace,” he said during the hearing. “It is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.”
“Why did you use that language? Why a high-tech lynching?” Kroft asks.
“If someone just wantonly tries to destroy you, if somebody comes in and drags you out of your house and beats the hell out of you. What is it?” the justice replies.
“What do you want people to think about these allegations? What is important…,” Steve Kroft asks.
“I think most well-meaning people understand it for what it was. It was a weapon to destroy me, clear and simple,” Thomas says.
In his book, Thomas 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.
A fine line often separates bitterness from vendetta. Neither is acceptable in a sitting judge of America’s highest court. Why would he be so fixated on this event? Why does he cast his critics in robes of bigotry and tar the ideological left with hatred? What does he really gain be opening old wounds? One can only assume that something within his character makes it impossible for him to get over it. And that is disturbing, because it raises the reasonable apprehension that his personal views may well intrude into his judicial decisions. They may already have.
Americans should not have to worry that judicial deliberations will be tainted by personal agendas or ongoing grudges. They should not have to consider now whether a different Clarence Thomas might also have resulted in a different president in 2000. Did Justice Thomas view Al Gore as one of those “left-wing zealots”? We may never know, but the door to that question was willingly opened wide by the judge himself, not by his critics or voices from his past.
Sound judgment, whether inside the courtroom or out, is always the unswerving bodyguard that must accompany top judges. It would take a man of extraordinarily poor judgment to have made the remarks and reignited the controversy in the way that Clarence Thomas did, which is why the injudicious and ill-advised conduct of the 106th Associate Justice of the Supreme Court is our choice for the Outrage of the Week.