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Bearing the Pain of Affirmative Action

The Shame of Clarence Thomas

The reason Thomas should resign is simple: He consistently argues and votes against affirmative action while he is arguably one of the most flagrant and, certainly, the most controversial, case of affirmative action in American history. Thomas decrying affirmative action is like Macbeth opposing murder.

Along with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Thomas graduated from Yale Law School. Both benefited from affirmative action. While Sotomayor, who wrote a 58-page dissent in the Michigan case, is a ferocious defender of affirmative action due to past injustices, Thomas consistently damns it and votes against it. He wrote the following in a 2003 legal dissent:

“When blacks take positions in the highest places of government, industry, or academia, it is an open question today whether their skin color played a part in their advancement.”

He should know. There's no question it did in his case.

In his memoir, he said his decision to accept an elite education from Yale Law School was a mistake. “I felt as though I’d been tricked, that some of the people who claimed to be helping me were in fact hurting me. It was futile for me to suppose I could escape the stigmatizing effects of racial preference.”

One naturally wonders where Thomas would have ended up without the elite boost he says ended up ironically “hurting” him? Without that elite 1974 Yale degree, would Missouri Republican Senator John Danford have made him an aide and become his political patron, getting him jobs like the one Ronald Reagan gave him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Then, President George Bush The First put him on the Appeals Bench for 16 months before elevating him to the Supreme Court.

If in retrospect accepting help was such an unpleasant mistake, why does he remain in the extremely “stigmatizing” role as a blatant affirmative action token on the US Supreme Court? He must be miserable there; the pain he cites must secretly gnaw at him day-in, day-out. You have to wonder how the man lives with himself. After all, Clarence Thomas is not a stupid man. No one is suggesting that. While his earlier job offers and promotions may not have been race-based, there's no doubt his final one was. He’s a glaring example of the old Peter Principal, which said people tended to be promoted to their level of incompetence, where they remained.

So he sits there in his black robe and says nothing, affecting a posture of rugged individualism to alleviate all the humiliation of being chosen purely because of his race. He has very effectively ingratiated himself to right wing power circles. And, oh yeh, he has figured out how to scapegoat liberals and progressives for his problems. They are the ones plaguing his conscience, not right-wing Republicans who would use his bizarre, anachronistic belief system to back-peddle on civil rights advances.

Every reasonably aware American knows Clarence Thomas is on the Supreme Court due to a high-powered Bush I Administration decision to stand on its head everything that the famous progressive African American Justice Thurgood Marshall stood for. Everyone knows it was Marshall’s affirmative action-based inclusion on the court that created a “black seat” on the court. The crime of it is the Marshall seat was -- more important than the race of its holder -- a progressive seat focused on civil rights. Clarence Thomas embodies the shame of this cynical theft each and every day he votes with apologists for Wealth and Police Power like Antonin Scalia.

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