Doubtless Thomas

Doubtless Thomas

by digby

This piece by Jeffrey Toobin on the influence of Clarence Thomas on the future of the United States of America is downright chilling. A man who was once an extreme conservative outlier has become a mainstream Justice, leading the court more often than not. Really:

In several of the most important areas of constitutional law, Thomas has emerged as an intellectual leader of the Supreme Court. Since the arrival of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., in 2005, and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., in 2006, the Court has moved to the right when it comes to the free-speech rights of corporations, the rights of gun owners, and, potentially, the powers of the federal government; in each of these areas, the majority has followed where Thomas has been leading for a decade or more. Rarely has a Supreme Court Justice enjoyed such broad or significant vindication.

The conventional view of Thomas takes his lack of participation at oral argument as a kind of metaphor. The silent Justice is said to be an intellectual nonentity, a cipher for his similarly conservative colleague, Antonin Scalia. But those who follow the Court closely find this stereotype wrong in every particular. Thomas has long been a favorite of conservatives, but they admire the Justice for how he gives voice to their cause, not just because he votes their way. “Of the nine Justices presently on the Court, he is the one whose opinions I enjoy reading the most,” Steve Calabresi, a professor at the Northwestern University School of Law and a co-founder of the Federalist Society, said. “They are very scholarly, with lots of historical sources, and his views are the most principled, even among the conservatives. He has staked out some bold positions, and then the Court has set out and moved in his direction.”

This judicial move to the right has been influenced by more than just Thomas, of course. The whole federalist Society project is a methodical strategy to do just that. But the fact that Thomas no longer holds a marginal position on the court is alarming --- he is more than an average wingnut.

The article discusses his wife's position as a major DC player in the tea party as further evidence of his far right political views. Their treatment of the constitution as a sacred text passed down by God is validated by his own views.
(I would have to say this is the real proof and it's been out there for a long time:

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who recently officiated at Limbaugh's wedding, says he tapes Limbaugh's radio show and listens to it as he works out (USA Today, 5/13/94).

Toobin characterizes those views this way:

The implications of Thomas’s leadership for the Court, and for the country, are profound. Thomas is probably the most conservative Justice to serve on the Court since the nineteen-thirties. More than virtually any of his colleagues, he has a fully wrought judicial philosophy that, if realized, would transform much of American government and society. Thomas’s views both reflect and inspire the Tea Party movement, which his wife has helped lead almost since its inception. The Tea Party is a diffuse operation, and it can be difficult to pin down its stand on any given issue. Still, the Tea Party is unusual among American political movements in its commitment to a specific view of the Constitution—one that accords, with great precision, with Thomas’s own approach. For decades, various branches of the conservative movement have called for a reduction in the size of the federal government, but for the Tea Party, and for Thomas, small government is a constitutional command.

In his jurisprudence, Thomas may be best known for his belief in a “color-blind Constitution”; that is, one that forbids any form of racial preference or affirmative action. But color blind, for Thomas, is not blind to race. Thomas finds a racial angle on a broad array of issues, including those which appear to be scarcely related to traditional civil rights, like campaign finance or gun control. In Thomas’s view, the Constitution imposes an ideal of racial self-sufficiency, an extreme version of the philosophy associated with Booker T. Washington, whose portrait hangs in his chambers. (This personal gallery also includes Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher.)

He's a constitutional fundamentalist:

From the moment Thomas arrived on the Court, he has been a committed originalist; he believes the Constitution should be interpreted as the words were understood by the men who wrote it. “When faced with a clash of constitutional principle and a line of unreasoned cases wholly divorced from the text, history, and structure of our founding document, we should not hesitate to resolve the tension in favor of the Constitution’s original meaning,” Thomas wrote in an opinion from 2005. Scalia is the figure most often associated with this school of thought, but he refers to himself as a “fainthearted originalist.” Scalia means that other factors besides his own understanding of the intent of the framers, most especially the long-established precedents of the Court, influence his judgment on the resolution of constitutional disputes. “If a constitutional line of authority is wrong, he”—Thomas—“would say let’s get it right,” Scalia told a reporter in 2004. “I wouldn’t do that. He does not believe in stare decisis period.” In other words, there is nothing fainthearted about Thomas’s convictions about the meaning of the Constitution.
“When interpreting a constitutional provision,” Thomas wrote earlier this year, “the goal is to discern the most likely public understanding of that provision at the time it was adopted.” To that end, he plumbs the words of the framers and the eighteenth-century (and earlier) thinkers who influenced Jefferson, Madison, and their contemporaries. No other Justice, not even Scalia, studies the historical record with as much care, and enthusiasm, as Thomas. In June, Thomas dissented from Scalia’s opinion holding unconstitutional the California law limiting the sale of violent video games to children. “A complete understanding of the founding generation’s views on children and the parent-child relationship must therefore begin roughly a century earlier, in colonial New England,” Thomas wrote. Following a survey of child-rearing in the eighteenth century, Thomas concluded that the “founding generation would not have considered it an abridgment of ‘the freedom of speech’ to support parental authority by restricting speech that bypasses minors’ parents.” In legal academia, Thomas’s rigor has won respect across the political spectrum. According to Sanford Levinson, a left-leaning professor at the University of Texas School of Law, “Scalia is far more influential, because he has spent much of the last two decades campaigning around the nation for his views, but it would not surprise me if future historians find Thomas to be the more intellectually serious of the two.”

More intellectually serious perhaps. But fundamentalist and ultra-orthodox nonetheless. The idea that the founders, so inspired by the Enlightenment they were spurred to revolution, would have ever dreamed that the America of the future would be in thrall to those who would lock its society and government in the manners and mores of the 18th century is just daft. (Not that it matters. We are alive, they are dead. And I don't believe they are waiting up in heaven, alongside Jesus and Abraham Lincoln, to pass judgment on our adherence to the constitution.)

Read the whole thing if you have the time. It's fascinating and alarming. This is a very, very angry and resentful person who is most properly understood from a psychological perspective, but whose extreme ideology and legal philosophy is becoming mainstream. This is a further sign that the Resentment Tribe is going to continue to be dominant for some time to come.