Clarence Thomas is a First-Class Justice, Liberal Criticism Unwarranted, by Henry Mark Holzer

In the 14-plus years that Associate Justice Clarence Thomas has occupied a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States much has been written about him.

Some of it has dealt with his ascent from the humblest of beginnings to the highest court in the land. Some has rehashed the bruising confirmation battle that activists on the Left turned into a deplorable circus. Some has discoursed on how liberals have retreated into the courts as the last bastion of furthering an agenda that is anathema to the majority of Americans and thus can’t be forced through unwilling legislatures. And some has been commentary on the typically uninformed, and sometimes deliberately misrepresented, hearsay accounts of Justice Thomas’s opinions.

What has not been addressed, however, is a thorough analysis of Justice Thomas’s actual opinions. Not what journalists and others claim he has written, but what he has actually written.

In his 14 complete terms as an associate justice of the Supreme Court from 1991 through 2005, Clarence Thomas has written 327 opinions – majority, concurring and dissenting. Despite their consistency in showing him to be a formidable intellect and a staunch defender of the Constitution, his reputation among laypersons is not commensurate with his achievements.

Too many members of the public have uncritically accepted the professional character assassination visited upon Justice Thomas by the liberal professional and academic legal community.

I cannot count the times that people who should have known better have, simply upon hearing Clarence Thomas’s name, immediately responded with derogatory comments about his abilities as a justice – even though they have never read a single opinion of the hundreds Thomas has written.

In the summer of 2005, when Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement, liberals launched a preemptive attack against Thomas because of rumors about the possibility of his being appointed chief justice.

Not only did the Thomas-haters disinter their ugly rhetoric from the early nineties, but they also impugned his fourteen-term record on the Court. Their unwarranted criticism covered all areas of Supreme Court adjudication: federalism, separation of powers, judicial review – and worse, Justice Thomas’s record in Bill of Rights and 14th Amendment cases.

Attacks on Justice Thomas have distorted an unambiguous and distinguished record. The fact is that his opinions, often eloquent, reveal him as a thoughtful conservative who understands the role of a Supreme Court justice, the methodology of proper constitutional and statutory adjudication and the appropriate resolution of the many issues that have come to the Court during his tenure. An actual reading of those opinions quickly overcomes the unconscionable propaganda that Justice Thomas is a “lightweight.”

Justice Thomas’s words clearly reflect what he understands to be the appropriate role of a Supreme Court justice. They shed light on his methodology for proper decision-making and his position on fundamental constitutional questions, among them: separation of powers, federalism, judicial review and such Bill of Rights issues as abortion, affirmative action, the death penalty and the alleged rights of prisoners.

More than any other member of the Court in modern times, Justice Clarence Thomas has kept the constitutional faith of the Founding Fathers. He deserves to be recognized as the Keeper of the Flame.

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Henry Mark Holzer, professor emeritus at Brooklyn Law School, is author of the forthcoming book The Keeper of the Flame: The Supreme Court Opinions of Justice Clarence Thomas. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

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