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.