Tuesday, October 2


SUPREME DISCOMFORT, The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas
by Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher
Doubleday NY

This is a difficult book to rate. It's easy reading -- obviously written more to entertain than to inform -- and it's highly biased against the subject yet presented in such a way as to pretend to be balanced. It is character assassination in print.

The subtitle, "The divided soul of Clarence Thomas" is not proven by the discourse. It is obvious that Thomas has a very clear idea of who he is and what the law should be. He is staunch in his beliefs and true to his conscience. There is nothing divided about him.

Justice Thomas seems to have figured out what most of his peers (and definitely the authors)haven't: That affirmative action has proved to be a double-edged sword, as harmful to blacks as it has been useful. It is obvious that Thomas simply considers himself a man, neither black nor white, as he gazes at life and law through clear glasses. To many blacks (and obviously to the authors) this is the Unforgivable Sin.

Thus they portray Justice Thomas as almost manically introspective, weak and flawed. They emphasize the pain he endured over the years from racial slurs and imply that he is almost useless on the court because he can't forget Anita Hill's attacks during his confirmation trial before Congress. I use the word trial intentionally here.

I had wondered why Justice Thomas was publishing a memoir at this time since it would necessarily bring Hill to the forefront again. This book must be the reason. He knew this would be what it is when he refused the authors access to himself and his memorabilia. He was right. The prejudice against him here is almost hysterical.

One of the points the authors belabor again and again is their contention (and yes, it has been said by others) that Thomas is a lackey to or clone of Justice Scalia because they vote the same way. I believe it was Jan Crawford Greenburg (author of the newly published "Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court”), who said in an interview on Book TV just last weekend that she had gone through all the records specifically to determine whether there was truth in that particular assumption. She says in most cases Thomas voted first and that it might be more accurate to say that it was Scalia who followed in Thomas's footsteps. The material she found in her research was available to these authors had they cared to check their facts.

Since their prejudice against Justice Thomas is so pronounced and their indictments of his character so repetitious I can't help but wonder what material they left out from their massive second-source research. It would not be presumptuous to assume that they were highly selective in order to prove their thesis that Thomas is so flawed that he is ineffective on the Court (something that isn't said but is strongly implied in these pages).

One of the things they object to most about him is the fact that he seldom asks questions during court sessions. They don't seem to realize that when one is talking, s/he isn't learning. Justice Thomas says someone always asks the questions he would, so he just listens until the answer surfaces. That is wisdom.

What they object to most, however, seems to be that Thomas is a Constitutional originalist. That is, he believes in the Constitution as written and is suspicious of re-creating it "to fit" contemporary times. He is less inclined to use stare decisis (respect for precedent) when considering cases and he believes strongly in the rights of states to handle most social issues. That conservatism truly irks the authors and I believe these are the reasons they have chosen to emphasize the negative and present such a biased smear.

Almost every page and certainly every chapter belabors the anger and pain that Justice Thomas presumably harbors from his growing up years (in addition to the Hill episode). He would be have to be insane if he wasn't hurt and the fact that he has risen above the destiny presumed by his birth and has served so honorably at various levels of government, including the highest court in the land, shows the mettle of the man.

Justice Clarence Thomas is a great American and a noble jurist who is doing his best. We can ask no more of anyone.