July 17th, 2007 07:20 EST
Part I - A Lost Cause: Clarence Thomas
Clarence Thomas is such a lost soul that when adverse, race-sensitive 5-4 Supreme Court rulings are issued, everyone knows that he has already voted with the conservative majority before the votes are officially announced. Knowing how Thomas is going to vote on a case involving race is as reliable as predicting who is going to be on the next cover of "O" magazine.
Still, Thomas' opinions are worth reading from time to time if for no other reason than to look at how he seeks to justify the unjustifiable. The court's recent decisions limiting the use of race in pupil assignments in the Seattle and Louisville school districts lifts yet another curtain on Thomas' delusional thinking.
If you think that's a harsh assessment, consider this gem from the court's lone Black member: "... My view of the Constitution is Justice Harlan's view in Plessy: 'Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens'...And my view was the rallying cry for the lawyers who litigated Brown."
Let's take each comment in reverse order. First, Thurgood Marshall, the first - and some would argue, the only - African-American to sit on the court, would turn over in his grave at the suggestion that he and Clarence Thomas were fighting for the same issues. They are polar opposites. Both Thomas and Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. pretend to be acting in the best tradition of the Brown decision when they ruled against the two school systems that implemented race-conscious student assignment policies.
Roberts wrote for the majority, "Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and could not go to school based on the color of their skin. The school districts in these cases have not carried the heavy burden of demonstrating that we should allow this once again- even for very different reasons."
Justice John Paul Stevens, referring to segregated schools prior to Brown, wrote in his dissent, "The Chief Justice fails to note that it was only black schoolchildren who were so ordered; indeed, the history books do not tell stories of white children struggling to attend black schools. In this and other ways, the Chief Justice rewrites the history of one of this Court's most important decisions."
Misrepresentation is not limited to the Brown decisions of 1954 and 1955. In falsely claiming to be acting in the tradition of Justice Harlan, Thomas and his compatriots like to cite his purported belief in a "color-blind" constitution. Like many other things, conservatives take the quote out of context.
In 1896, in Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana law requiring separate railway cars for Blacks and Whites. In his dissent, this is what Harlan said:
"The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time if it remains true to its great heritage and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty. But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved."
Harlan was seeking to expand constitutional protection, not limit it. The Brown decision overturned Plessy as the court's majority unanimously adopted what had been Harlan's minority view.
In his opinion, a shameless Clarence Thomas tried to compare justices who backed the Seattle and Louisville school districts to arch-segregationists who opposed Brown.
"The segregationists in Brown embraced the arguments the Court endorsed in Plessy," he wrote. "Though Brown decisively rejected those arguments, today's dissent replicates them to a distressing extent....The dissent argues that 'weight [must be given] to a local school board's knowledge, expertise, and concerns, and with equal vigor, the segregationists argued deference to local authorities.
"...The dissent argues that today's decision 'threatens to substitute for personal calm a disruptive round of race-related litigation' and claims that today's decision 'risks serious harm to the law and for the Nation.' The segregationists also relied upon the likely practical consequences of ending the state- imposed system of racial separation... And foreshadowing today's dissent, the segregationists most heavily relied upon judicial precedent." Thomas declared, "What was wrong in 1954 cannot be right today."
And what's wrong today is wrong forever.
(Next week: Thomas' Strange View of Integration.)
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.