A Twofer For the Klan

One of the more interesting figures in American public life is Justice Clarence Thomas:

 

Thomas spent his childhood in a place and time in which businesses and government services were legally segregated. In his 2007 memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son,” he described his experience growing up as an African-American Catholic in Georgia during the Jim Crow era. “I was a two-fer for the Klan,” he said.

Thomas moved north from Georgia and graduated from Yale Law School in 1974. He went on to a successful judicial career that took him all the way to the Supreme Court. Thomas’ views on constitutional issues usually put him on the conservative side of the court, where he has penned opinions intended to rein in affirmative-action laws and overhaul a section of the Civil Rights Act that requires states with histories of discrimination to seek approval from the federal government before altering voting policies.

Throughout his career, Thomas said, he has experienced more instances of discrimination and poor treatment in the North than the South.

“The worst I have been treated was by northern liberal elites. The absolute worst I have ever been treated,” Thomas said. “The worst things that have been done to me, the worst things that have been said about me, by northern liberal elites, not by the people of Savannah, Georgia.”

As one of six Catholics on the court, Thomas also addressed the role his faith plays in his work as a justice.

“I quite frankly don’t know how you do these hard jobs without some faith. I don’t know. Other people can come to you and explain it to you. I have no idea,” he said. “I don’t know how an oath becomes meaningful unless you have faith. Because at the end you say, ‘So help me God.’ And a promise to God is different from a promise to anyone else.”

Go here to read the rest.  Thomas was raised by his cantankerous maternal grandfather Myers Anderson, a man with little education but who through hard work built a thriving business selling fuel oil and ice.  He worked Clarence and his brother liked rented mules, and imprinted on them the value of hard work, promising them that if they worked hard enough, and got an education, they could be anything they wanted to be, having nothing but scorn for the idea that white racism could stop them.  Thomas has said simply that his grandfather is the greatest man he has ever known.

In the case of Grutter v. Bollinger the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the use of race as a factor in law school admissions.  Justice Thomas wrote a ringing dissent in which he explained why the Court was wrong:

Justice Thomas, with whom Justice Scalia joins as to Parts I—VII, concurring in part and dissenting in part.

    Frederick Douglass, speaking to a group of abolitionists almost 140 years ago, delivered a message lost on today’s majority:

“[I]n regard to the colored people, there is always more that is benevolent, I perceive, than just, manifested towards us.  What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice.  The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us… . I have had but one answer from the beginning.  Do nothing with us!  Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us.  Do nothing with us!  If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall!  …  And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also.  All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs!  Let him alone! …  [Y]our interference is doing him positive injury.”  What the Black Man Wants: An Address Delivered in Boston, Massachusetts, on 26 January 1865, reprinted in 4 The Frederick Douglass Papers 59, 68 (J. Blassingame & J. McKivigan eds. 1991) (emphasis in original).

Like Douglass, I believe blacks can achieve in every avenue of American life without the meddling of university administrators.   Because I wish to see all students succeed whatever their color, I share, in some respect, the sympathies of those who sponsor the type of discrimination advanced by the University of Michigan Law School (Law School).  The Constitution does not, however, tolerate institutional devotion to the status quo in admissions policies when such devotion ripens into racial discrimination.  Nor does the Constitution countenance the unprecedented deference the Court gives to the Law School, an approach inconsistent with the very concept of “strict scrutiny.”

    No one would argue that a university could set up a lower general admission standard and then impose heightened requirements only on black applicants.  Similarly, a university may not maintain a high admission standard and grant exemptions to favored races.  The Law School, of its own choosing, and for its own purposes, maintains an exclusionary admissions system that it knows produces racially disproportionate results.  Racial discrimination is not a permissible solution to the self-inflicted wounds of this elitist admissions policy.

      The majority upholds the Law School’s racial discrimination not by interpreting the people’s Constitution, but by responding to a faddish slogan of the cognoscenti.  Nevertheless, I concur in part in the Court’s opinion.  First, I agree with the Court insofar as its decision, which approves of only one racial classification, confirms that further use of race in admissions remains unlawful.  Second, I agree with the Court’s holding that racial discrimination in higher education admissions will be illegal in 25 years.  See ante, at 31 (stating that racial discrimination will no longer be narrowly tailored, or “necessary to further” a compelling state interest, in 25 years).  I respectfully dissent from the remainder of the Court’s opinion and the judgment, however, because I believe that the Law School’s current use of race violates the Equal Protection Clause and that the Constitution means the same thing today as it will in 300 months.

Go here to read the rest.  Racism is the besetting sin of American history.  If we ever get beyond it, men like Clarence Thomas and his grandfather will have shown us the way out of that poisonous sin.

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