02 Sep 1997 The Emergence of Clarence Thomas, by Paul Weyrich
by Paul Weyrich
The headline on the front page of Sunday’s [July 27] Washington Times read “Thomas Increasing in Stature as Justice.”
It virtually jumped off the page. The Times piece, by Frank J. Murray, acknowledges what Supreme Court watchers such as Tom Jipping have been saying for some time now. Clarence Thomas is slowly but surely becoming one of the most influential of the nine jurists whose opinions today have so much to do with the conduct of our government, as well as our daily lives.
No Supreme Court justice in history has had to endure the constant vilification which Thomas has. He has chosen to ignore what was said about him in favor of long hours and hard work on the cases assigned to him. He told me recently that his greatest satisfaction in being on the Court is the ability to eventually bring his colleagues around to a sound point of view by doing solid work.
Ever since he was confirmed in 1991, by a 52-to-48 vote, Clarence Thomas has been determined to outlive his critics, not just by serving longer on the court, but by becoming, through solid historical work, a respected force. Nothing has shaken him from that goal.
Some justices have their clerks do all of the writing. They merely outline their views, and the clerks do the rest of the work. In fact, sometimes justices haven’t even known which way they wanted to go on a case, so they had their clerks give them opposite opinions on an issue and then they choose one of the opinions as their own. Thomas doesn’t let others do the most important work of the Court. He labors away at writing the material himself. What has become clear is that, as a result of his labors, the other justices now regard him as a keen intellect whose opinions are always backed by excellent research. Even when they disagree with Thomas, they know he can back up what he says in his opinions. After six terms, this recognition of Thomas as a legal scholar is long overdue.
The ridicule heaped upon Thomas by liberal blacks, fearful that he might become someone whom young black people would look up to, has been extraordinary. These liberal blacks, and liberals in general, painted a picture of Thomas as alternatively incompetent or as an Oreo cookie — black on the outside but white on the inside. Their friends in the media furthered this campaign, so that for several years any time Thomas was mentioned he was ridiculed. About three years ago, these same groups, aided by the same media carried on a campaign to try to get Thomas to resign. One can expect to be in editorial cartoonswhen one is a justice of the Supreme Court, but Thomas even made it into the regular cartoons as well, all done with derision and dripping sarcasm designed to make Thomas look foolish.
Now, it is his critics who have begun to look foolish, as Thomas is emerging as a powerful voice on the Court. His writings are stated so clearly that any citizen can understand them. His logic is powerful. His research impeccable. And now his influence with his colleagues is steadily increasing.
Thomas is a model for anyone who has to endure false criticism and the demands of the same sort of crowd which in Christ’s time shouted “Give us Barabbas.” Even among those whom he considers close friends, Thomas never lets his critics frame how he looks at things. He knows God and he lets God determine the framework for his overall thinking. Beyond that, Thomas sticks to the Constitution and the minds of those who framed it, as he labors through the myriad of issues which those who wrote the Constitution could never have imagined. He has every right to be bitter, but he is anything but bitter. The reason his critics get ever more angry is because it is beginning to dawn on them that they have had no effect on Thomas.
Let those who have to face the viciousness of unfair attack look to the example of Clarence Thomas. He has taught us that, even in this demented society, steady, solid hard work will eventually win recognition and respect. True, his detractors will never stop. But the important thing is that he has never given them the satisfaction of winning. Clarence Thomas has stayed on his own course, and it is beginning to pay off big time.