Thomas Might Be The Smart One After All

Published December 9, 2004

Dear Editor:

Congratulations to the Wall Street Journal for its editorial on December 6 (“Uncivil Senator”). It exposed the hypocritical and overtly political double-standards that have emerged in recent criticisms of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. It is little more than a modern-day lynching.

Should a high-ranking U.S. Senator speak his mind about what he truly believes? The short answer is “yes,” but freedom of speech should be balanced with civility instead of dominated by partisan invectives intended to damage a character and life image.

If a white Republican Senator had described a liberal black Democrat as the new minority leader, Harry Reid, described Justice Thomas, everybody – including most of the mass media – would be calling for his removal. Trent Lott lost his leadership position for saying far less than what Reid said.

I could hardly believe the words I was hearing as I watched Meet The Press this past Sunday morning. Tim Russert was interviewing Reidand asked about the future of the U.S. Supreme Court.

When Russert presented the possibility of Justice Thomas being named Chief Justice, Reid described the only black member of the nation’s highest court as “an embarrassment to the Supreme Court.” He added insult to injury by saying, “I think that his opinions are poorly written. I just don’t think he’s done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.”

I have talked with some leading Ivy League law school professors who are admittedly not in agreement with Justice Thomas’ politics. They do not, however, question his intelligence.

If law school deans had written letters to the chief justice and President Bush asking Justice Thomas to step down for reasons of illogic or incompetence, perhaps Reid’s comments would have some validity. But there has been little outcry against the justice for anything but his ideological views.

With all due respect to Senator Reid, Justice Clarence Thomas is a positive role model for conservatives and liberals alike. His life story inspires us all to consider what can be accomplished by people of all colors, all genders, and all political ideologies.

Ironically, the humble backgrounds of Senator Reid and Justice Thomas are similar. Yet as I recall, Thomas also had to overcome being born and raised in the segregated south with a skin-color much darker than that of Reid. Nevertheless, Thomas graduated with distinction from Holy Cross and went on to study law at Yale. When he graduated from high school as the only black in his class, his peers wrote in the yearbook: “Clarence failed the finals, he only got a 98.”

He might be the smart one after all.

Lee H. Walker
Chicago, Illinois

Lee H. Walker ([email protected]) is president of The New Coalition for Economic and Social Change, a multicultural think tank in Chicago.