I was casting about for some reading recently and stumbled across the Clarence Thomas auto-bio My Grandfather’s Son – A Memoir. I thought it might be interesting to read about a current Supreme Court Justice who might also have empathy based on ethnicity and race. It turned out to be a speedy and thought provoking read.
Several points were very notable:
1. Thomas grew up in VERY humble surroundings, dirt-poor in rural Georgia near Savannah, under the stern and disciplined upbringing of his grandfather. The chapters on his childhood are truly inspirational. (Thomas is 2 years younger than I am.)
2. By his own admission he became an “angry young black man” during his college days, participating with student groups in marches and demonstrations, suitably attired in grubby fatigues and combat boots.
3. He drank a LOT from his college days through the next 15-20 years or so. He finally gave it up entirely.
4. After going his own way during and after his college years he never fully reconciled with his grandfather, which has bothered him greatly.
5. He is a very serious person, somewhat morose and saturnine IMO.
6. Due to his hard working childhood he has always believed in achieving for one’s self and has opposed affirmative action and racial preferences on the grounds that it stifles racial growth and achievement, thus his life-long leaning towards conservatism. (But he was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for 8 years.) He came to conservative values via hard work, logic, and reason, not politics. (He has read several Ayn Rand works, not that there is anything wrong with that!)
7. He is an originalist when it comes to interpreting the Constitution. (i.e. What does it mean in the terms that the Founding Fathers intended it as written.)
8. He totally denies all the allegations by Anita Hill brought up during his nomination proceedings. He gently portrays her as an average employee who was somewhat of a job\status seeking ladder climber without the accompanying skills. Her accusations distressed him and his (white) wife greatly.
9. He was raised and schooled in a religious (Catholic) environment, grew away from it during and after college, and has returned to it later in life. He quotes a lot of scripture in the book.
10. He speaks a lot about being black, and helping his people, throughout the book. This was an interesting perspective to me because ‘this’ WASP did not grow up thinking about my own race or much about others. I’m curious to read more of these perspectives.
What does this have to do with current Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor? Not a whole lot, other than that it is possible to grow up in an ethnic (racially disadvantaged, I dare say) environment and be committed to self-achievement.
Coincidentally I read an interview with Robert Bork the other day (The View from 1987), another Supreme Court nominee who was crucified during proceedings and did NOT become a Justice. He makes some pointed remarks about Sotomayor, of which a few are:
”President Obama has spoken of empathy as his key standard for choosing judicial nominees. What do you think of that approach?
I don’t know exactly what empathy means. I suppose at a minimum it means you want a judge who will depart from the meaning of the constitution when a sympathetic case arises. It does seem to raise a warning that we’re talking about a judge who does not follow the law.”
“What are your thoughts about Judge Sotomayor’s nomination?
I think it was a bad mistake. Her comments about the wise Latina suggest identity-group jurisprudence. She also has a reputation for bullying counsel. And her record is not particularly distinguished. Far from it. And it is unusual to nominate somebody who states flatly that she was the beneficiary of affirmative action. But I can’t believe she will be any worse than some recent white male appointees.”
“As it’s currently composed, this is sometimes called a conservative court.
I don’t see it at all. It’s a very left-leaning, liberal court.
Could you elaborate? Compared to what?
Well, compared to what the Constitution actually says. They tend to enact the agenda or the preferences of a group that thinks of itself as the intellectual elite.
How have you been struck by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito since they were appointed?
My general impression of them is quite good. The justice up there who I most admire is Clarence Thomas. I notice that when he and Scalia differ—it’s not that often, but when they do—I tend to agree with Thomas. “
Read the entire brief article at the link provided above.
For a good (conservative) read about how the Supreme Court has practiced judicial activism almost from day one I recommend The Politically Incorrect Guide(tm) to the Constitution by Kevin R. Gutzman.