Glenn Loury praises Clarence Thomas

June 24, 2023 • 11:45 am

Well, here’s one case where I can’t agree with Glenn Loury, who heaps praise on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in Loury’s Substack post below. (There’s also a video.) A quote:

The vilification of Clarence Thomas needs to stop. Actually, I’ll go further than that. Clarence Thomas deserves permanent public recognition for his achievements and service to the country. Schools should be named after him. Whatever his past sins, he has served on the Supreme Court for three decades. He has risen from nothing to become one of the most powerful and influential public officials in the country. Yes, he is a conservative, and his views are unpopular in some quarters. But that should not blind us to the magnitude of his accomplishments.

There is no reason that a school or library or public park shouldn’t bear the name of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Whatever you think of her opinions and ideological orientation, she was a significant figure on the Supreme Court, and so she is a significant historical figure. That’s undeniable. Equally undeniable is the significance and influence of Clarence Thomas. As John notes in the following excerpt from our most recent conversation, Thomas’s career before he ascended to the Court may not have merited a special place of honor. But he is now arguably the most influential justice currently serving. He may not have originated any school of legal thinking, but his opinions will remain consequential for decades after he retires.

Click to below to read more, or listen to the video below, which is embedded in Loury’s post (the post has a transcript of Loury’s discussion with McWhorter, which you can see in the video). They don’t really agree on this one!

I’m not down with a lot of the vilification of Thomas, as who knows what happened during the Anita Hill affair? If you believe Hill, as I did, he was a sexual harasser but not a sexual predator. But I am adamant that Thomas doesn’t deserve big kudos and plaudits.  He’s a so-so Justice whose decisions have, on the whole, been bad for America. His “due” is simply the respect afforded any human being, but beyond that. . . crickets from me.

But Loury apparently thinks that Thomas deserves big plaudits for four reasons:

a.) for getting to the position of Justice as a black man from a background of abject poverty—though of course he was appointed by George H. W. Bush largely because he was both conservative and black, a conservative-acceptable version of the much greater justice he replaced, Thurgood Marshall.  I disagree with many of Thomas’s decisions, though he has voted “properly” in favor of First-Amendment issues in some cases. I don’t deny he’s a smart man and has worked hard to get where he is, and I won’t dismiss him as a sexual predator. No, I dismiss him because I think his diehard conservatism and fabricated “originalism” have been bad for America. But listen to Loury below and make your own judgement.

b.) for being on the court a long time.

c.) to give a big a slap in the face to those people who have demonized him as a “sexual predator” for what Anita Hill said during Thomas’s confirmation hearings. It also repatriates him in the eyes of those who think he’s “politically obstreperous” and thinks for himself (Loury thinks that people who say that are racists.)

d.) for instantiating the American dream by achieving success through hard work, and even when he was held back by racism.

Race, hard work, and longevity on the bench are his “attributes”. But only “hard work” is something to be applauded.  “Longevity” isn’t always a virtue, for there’s a lot of perks you get (like free vacations!) by being one of the nation’s most powerful Justices.

McWhorter weighs in at 6:55, saying that “it’s hard talking about Clarence Thomas, for a million reasons.” But McWhorter wonders what positive accomplishments Thomas made. Unlike Marshall, who had a long record of civil rights activism before becoming a Justice, and even unlike Scalia, whom McWhorter consider the “father of originalism”, what did Thomas do that makes him stand out from other Justices? Loury admits that Thomas has been just a “yeoman contributor to the country” as a justice and doesn’t have “a great degree of accomplishment” comparable to that of other  justices.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, is it. We should laud Thomas, says Loury” as being a “bright black man who made good in America”. Yes, that’s true, but did he DO good in America?

And a “yeoman contributor to the country” is not exactly high praise! I think Loury’s judgment slipped here, perhaps because they’re fellow black conservatives who are smart and accomplished, which gives them a kind of kinship.

22 thoughts on “Glenn Loury praises Clarence Thomas

  1. Since Loury seems to be in Chicago, why isn’t he recommending schools be named after Al Capone for similar reasons?

  2. Thomas has contributed to racism and has set back civil rights in general. He sat for years contributing nothing of value and his wife has contributed to damaging democracy. They both should be vilified.

  3. Loury:

    “Clarence Thomas deserves permanent public recognition for his achievements and service to the country.”

    I think this is a case of confusing precisely what an individual did (PCC(E) put it exactly – “DO” ) – with the individual as a symbol. Thomas certainly symbolizes some important non-court aspects of life in the United States. We know a lot about symbolism, so this is simple human nature / error.

    I think Loury is religious and McWhorter isn’t. Perhaps this says something about the vulnerability in human nature, that McWhorter doesn’t buy it

    1. … errrm, that LOURY buys it, but McWhorter doesn’t, is the idea… that Loury is more vulnerable to things like religion that McWhorter isn’t.

  4. Well, conservative establishments might name things after him. Deeply red states might name streets or schools after him. But any ventures outside of that would be too controversial.

  5. I think Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from cases where his wife is -even obliquely- involved .That is the rule for US judges, but apparently not for SC Justices. The fact he doesn’t recuse himself there really degrades my possible esteem I’d have for him. It makes him look like a political hack.

    I also note he is reputed to be very good company outside his court role, something I highly value, RBG an CT were reputedly good friends. I do not want to diss CT, but he should recuse himself in the cases mentioned above. Not doing that damages the credibility of the SC.

    1. Nicolaas, you may be right about RBG’s friendship with CT, but I had never heard of that. What was widely known and celebrated was RBG’s friendship with her polar opposite, Antonin Scalia. Could you be confusing Thomas and Scalia?

  6. ” for getting to the position of Justice as a black man from a background of abject poverty—though of course he was appointed by George H. W. Bush largely because he was both conservative and black, a conservative-acceptable version of the much greater justice he replaced, Thurgood Marshall.”

    This section feels like he’s saying, “But is he REALLY black? I mean, he’s… *whispers* a Republican.”

    Yes, he was appointed by a Republican because he was Conservative. Duh. Conservatives don’t go around appointing Liberals and vice-versa.

    If you think his race is relevant in some way, then that should stand on it’s own. If you want to criticize him for being conservative, then that stands on it’s own. But linking those two thoughts together, with a negative framing, seems to be implying he’s kind of a race-traitor, so he only half counts as a black Supreme Court Justice.

    And this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this attitude. Whenever Republicans like some black politician “You’re still a racist! You only like him because he agrees with you!” Well… yes? If Republicans like black politicians who do things they like (such as Thomas) and don’t like black politicians who do things they don’t like (like Obama) then that’s just judging a man by his character. It’s flat-up not racist.

    Maybe it’s because I’m too young and separated from the days of Jim Crow, but I really don’t think his race matters. But if it does, then being a black man who conservatives like a lot should be PRAISED for helping to bridge the race-politics gap.

  7. “Clarence Thomas deserves permanent public recognition for his achievements and service to the country. Schools should be named after him.”

    Sure, how ’bout “Long Dong Silver Junior High” — a school where students could be instructed in the fine art of sexually harassing subordinates?

    Life is short, memories long. “High-tech lynching,” my ass.

  8. … he [Clarence Thomas] was appointed by George H. W. Bush largely because he was both conservative and black …

    Poppy Bush’s claim that Clarence Thomas was the most qualified candidate in the country for a seat on the Supreme Court was one of the most cynical statements ever uttered by a US president (at least in the pre-Trump era). Bush was essentially saying, “Oh, you people want a black justice to replace Thurgood Marshall? I’ll give you the kinda black justice where you’ll never ask a Republican for another.”

  9. >”Unlike Marshall, who had a long record of civil rights activism before becoming a Justice, . . .” says McWhorter in paraphrase at 8:13.

    The context of this remark is that JMcW is arguing this is why Marshall gets his name on public buildings: for what he did with the NAACP, Brown v. Board of Education etc. before he became a Justice. He’s not saying (and I’m glad he doesn’t) that Marshall was a better Justice than Thomas for black people because of that advocacy background. (Presumably Marshall put his politics behind him when he sat down with the other eight Justices to listen to legal arguments in cases where race was a factor.) JMcW is saying that Thomas doesn’t have a record of public service before he ascended to the Supreme Court and so doesn’t deserve recognition for that in the same way Marshall did (which is true), not that Thomas is less worthy than Marshall of recognition as a Justice. I know most readers here don’t care much for Clarence Thomas but that’s not what JMcW means by the remark quoted above. Most Supreme Court Justices should be yeoman decision-renderers. Not all can stand head-and-shoulders above everyone else. The ones who do should be honoured.

    McWhorter actually says nothing during the clip critical of Thomas’s judicial opinions (or character defects) and agrees with Loury that Thomas should be given full credit for not supporting positions just because they would give more benefits, advantages, and leniency to black people. Neither argues that Justice Thomas has been bad for civil rights or bad for America. McW goes further (at 7:15) and says that people on the Left who say his views are anti-black find it impossible to articulate why.

    Fwiw, I agree with McWhorter’s central point that Thomas hasn’t done anything worthy of getting a building named after him, other than as a role model for black kids visiting Washington, which is more inspirational than George Floyd, I guess.

  10. “Yes, that’s true, but did he DO good in America?” If this is saying a measure of a Supreme Court Justice is how much good they do, I wouldn’t agree. I would value a Justice who provides clarity on legal questions and nothing more. People will say this is hopelessly naive, but it’s a principle I’d prefer to stick with.

  11. Well, I fully agree that Clarence Thomas has not had the distinguished career that would justify naming buildings or streets in Washington D.C. for him, or in any other major city. However, I would be disappointed if no memorial to him is ever erected in Pin Point, GA, his place of birth and upbringing. That’s a pretty tiny community. There have been fewer than 120 Justices in the history of the court. And the number who are or were black can be counted on one hand. So that’s something. I’m not sure about this, but Thomas may well be the only Justice for whom English was his second language, being a native speaker of Gullah (Geechee). If folks there take some pride in his success, and want to commemorate it, I won’t criticize.

    Other places are a bit of a stretch. Thomas is certainly among the most famous graduates of Holy Cross. Probably no hotbed of liberalism, but still likely to be a controversial figure to honor with a statue or building there. I’m wondering, do they have a statue of Bob Cousy? Here’s my thought on how to get a Thomas statue erected there. Put it up at the same time as a statue of Tony Fauci, another famous (infamous?) Holy Cross grad. After all, conservatives seem to disdain Fauci as much as liberals detest Thomas. The two figures can glower at each other across the college green. Just a thought.

    1. … I would be disappointed if no memorial to him is ever erected in Pin Point, GA, his place of birth and upbringing.

      Harlan Crowe would no doubt be happy to foot the bill for that.

      Clarence Thomas was the beneficiary of an admissions program at Holy Cross that recruited and nurtured promising black students who might not otherwise meet the criteria for admission. See also here. But he’s sure been Clarence-on-the-spot when it comes to pulling up the ladder behind him.

  12. Clarence Thomas is a lot more complicated than most people realize. He was a disciple of Malcolm X and a black nationalist when he was younger.

    Here is his view of affirmative action. Is it really so clear that he is wrong?

    According to Thomas, affirmative action is the most recent attempt by white people to brand and belittle black people as inferior. Affirmative action does not formally mirror the tools of white supremacy; for Thomas, it is the literal continuation of white supremacy.

    His argument is rooted in two beliefs, each informed by his time spent on the left. The first is that affirmative action reinforces the stigma that shadows African-Americans. Among many whites, blackness signals a deficit of intellect, talent, and skill. Even Supreme Court Justices, Thomas wrote in one opinion, “assume that anything that is predominantly black must be inferior.” When the state and social institutions identify African-Americans as beings in need of help, they reinforce that stigma. It doesn’t matter if some African-Americans succeed without affirmative action. In the same way that enslavement marked all black people, free or slave, as inferior, affirmative action—here Thomas borrows directly from the language of Plessy v. Ferguson—stamps all African-Americans with “a badge of inferiority.”

    The second way affirmative action continues white supremacy is by elevating whites to the status of benefactors, doling out scarce privileges to those black people they deem worthy. The most remarkable element of Thomas’s affirmative-action jurisprudence, and what makes it unlike that of any other Justice on the Supreme Court, is how much attention he devotes to whites, not as victims but as perpetrators, the lead actors in a racial drama of their own imagination. Put simply, Thomas believes that affirmative action is a white program for white people.,notion%20extended%20to%20the%20left.

    1. Hear! Hear! I hate Affirmative Action. Thomas now sits along side Supreme Court Justice Diversity Hire. What is her name? Honestly I’ve forgotten. Why? Because Biden said ahead of time he would hire a Black Female justice. Not that he had a specific person in mind who just happened to be black and female, but just some dark chick. Given the population of the United States, Justice DH would have been, on average, about the 7th best person for the job. We have good reason to think she is not the best choice, because merit was held at a number three priority behind race and sex.

      Was there some hispanic woman that worked her ass off her whole life, who overcame growing in absolute poverty, and could talk rings around every conservative justice? Sorry dear, your skin is the wrong color. Your accomplishments mean nothing in the face of your poor choice to have insufficient melanin.

      Besides, if the goal is to help out disadvantaged people… then white people can be disadvantaged too. I know white people who grew up without plumbing. Not just without indoor plumbing, but plumbing period. They went down to the river to get water. They got absolute jack shit to help them out.

      Skin color can be a good proxy for other things you wish to determine. It’s an outward marker of likely culture and origin of birth. But it’s only ever an ‘at-a-glance’ proxy. To insist on using it to define a person when you have much better ways to get to know them (Like, say, I don’t know… their decades long judicial career) is literally racist.

      1. The woman you disparage as “Justice Diversity Hire” has a name: Ketanji Brown Jackson. Her credentials and qualifications are at least the equal of any of the eight other justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court.

        And that “hispanic woman that worked her ass off her whole life, who overcame growing in absolute poverty, and could talk rings around every conservative justice” you mention? She already sits on the High Court — a wise Latina by the name of Sonia Sotomayor, appointed by Barack Obama in 2009.

        Louis Brandeis was the first Jew appointed to SCOTUS, in 1916, one-hundred and twenty-eight years after the US constitution was ratified. Does that make Brandeis a “diversity hire” in your view? From Brandeis’s 1916 appointment through the 1960s, there was what was known as “the Jewish seat” on the Supreme Court, a reverse-quota system. For much of the Court’s existence, there was also a single “Catholic seat,” to the same end. Indeed, for most of this nation’s history, there has been in effect perhaps the greatest affirmative action program known to history — in favor of WASP men; only they need apply.

        1. And the problem with a SECOND hispanic woman is? Why should she get turned down because her skin is the wrong color, no matter how good she is? Why does Sotomayor pull the ladder up behind her? “We’ve already got one hispanic, we don’t need any more!”

          And you quote past Jewish and Catholic seats… do you think citing more cases of affirmative action happening in the past makes me think it’s okay now? Heck you seem to agree with me, that WASPs got unfair favorable treatment because of their race and religion! That’s wrong, I agree. It’s not fair when it benefits WASP Men, and it’s not fair when it benefits to Black Women.

          This is fighting racism with racism. And what’s worse, Justice aren’t SUPPOSED to be politicians. They are more akin to scientists, looking at what is already there, and coming to a conclusion. Justices I approve of do occasionally make calls that I’m not happy with, because it’s the correct answer, no matter how much I would prefer it not to be. Representation doesn’t matter here. Or at least it shouldn’t. Yes, I know real life doesn’t work like that, sadly. But it’s still something we should be trying for, or at least pretending we’re doing. And when you hold seats for specific racial or religious groups, then you’re not even pretending to say “This is about the law, not about politics.”

          And ultimately, when you hold seats for specific people, as the original person said, you undermine faith in them. You specifically say “We’re not going to look for the best person, above all else. We’re going to look for someone who has the right body, then we’ll look for someone with good skill. And we’re willing to settle for someone of mediocre quality, if we can’t find someone interested in the job with the right body.” On the national level, perhaps you have such a large recruitment pool that the difference between the best and the 7th best is negligable. It still sucks for the 6 people who didn’t get chosen due to looking wrong, but for the Supreme Court it might not actually make a difference.

          But for the rest of the country? For jobs where you’ve got small recruitment pools, and where those race requirements could result in significant disparities in quality? Well, now when peoples black supervisor sucks, they’ll know it’s because of him being a diversity hire. And that breeds racial resentment. I can’t imagine skill black laborers with incompetent white supervisors felt good about being passed over for promotion for being the wrong skin color either.

          And even for good black supervisors, who were genuinely hired on color blind merit, most people will still wonder if they really were hired because of their skill, or their skin. As long as affirmative action exists, it casts a shadow of doubt on every black person with a good job. The more clear the company makes it clear that they hire based on affirmative action, the longer that shadow is. And even the black man can doubt himself, unsure if he really is good for the job, or if he’s just the beneficiary of the white mans largesse.

  13. I will take liberties with Loury’s words and paraphrase: Does anyone doubt that if Clarence Thomas were of the far left, then school children throughout America would be learning during Black History Month to praise his thirty years of service on the Supreme Court?

    Anyone who questioned whether he was worthy of such treatment would be branded a racist. The entire Anita Hill fiasco would reside in the same memory hole as the sexual escapades and public dissimulations of Bill Clinton. (My, what a deep and wide hole that would be.) Personally, I could not care less about whether anything is named after either Thomas or Scalia or Ginsburg or Clinton. But “worthy of honor” does so very often mean “I agree” with what that person has said, done, or believed. Basically: they are worthy because they are like me.

    As to the significance of naming, consider this: The Marshall Plan. Ask the average U. S. college graduate under thirty or so if they can tell you who it was named for, what it was, and what other accomplishments that person had that might make him worthy of having a high school named after him. One generation honors so that the next one can forget.

  14. There were long odds against Thomas getting to where he is. He gets credit for achieving success and stature. But, once on the Supreme Court—which is all that really matters—what has he done? He was almost invisible for a large part of his tenure, his judicial decisions have been so-so, and at least some of his conduct while on the Court has been questionable or frankly inappropriate. History will decide where he ranks among American Supreme Court justices. My guess is that he will be ranked in the lower half, perhaps the lower third.

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