FOX News contributor Juan Williams takes to the WSJ to write a paean to Justice Clarence Thomas entitled “America’s Most Influential Thinker on Race“. It’s true in the same way Hurricane Katrina was America’s Most Influential Hurricane on Race.
Justice Thomas, who has been on the court nearly a quarter-century, remains a polarizing figure—loved by conservatives and loathed by liberals. But his “free”-thinking legal opinions are opening new roads for the American political debate on racial justice.
His opinions are rooted in the premise that the 14th Amendment—guaranteeing equal rights for all—cannot mean different things for different people. As he wrote in Fisher v. University of Texas (2013), he is opposed to “perpetual racial tinkering” by judges to fix racial imbalance and inequality at schools and the workplace. Yet he never contends racism has gone away. The fact that a 2001 article in Time magazine about him was headlined “Uncle Tom Justice” reminds us that racism stubbornly persists.
His only current rival in the race debate is President Obama. At moments of racial controversy the nation’s first black president has used his national pulpit to give voice to black fear that racial stereotyping led to tragedy. But that is as far as he is willing to go. His attorney general, Eric Holder , has gone further by calling Americans “cowards” when it comes to discussing race. And some critics have chastised him even for that.
Justice Thomas, meanwhile, is reshaping the law and government policy on race by virtue of the power of his opinions from the bench. Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American on the Supreme Court, stood up as a voice insisting on rights for black people. Justice Thomas, the second black man on the court, takes a different tack. He stands up for individual rights as a sure blanket of legal protection for everyone, including minorities.
Thomas has taken it upon himself to address racism by dismantling the civil rights era protections of the law over the last 50 years and saying “those were training wheels, you have to succeed on your own.” This, he argues, will magically create the respect from white America necessary to rid the country of racism.
This only works of course if you believe that the direct victims of racism (which Thomas does absolutely recognize as still existing in America) are white people, and that the corrective actions of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act other legislative fixes were the problem for the last two generations, and in no way part of the solution.
Thomas has many like-minded comrades on SCOTUS when it comes to this with the goal of putting America back to 1965, and that the Civil Rights era was a massive error, a huge mistake which has damaged America for decades.
Rather, Thomas’s solution is simple: the burden to rise above racism is placed upon minorities to simply be better and to succeed in spite of it, solely through personal responsibility. If racism exists (and Thomas again admits it does) then your duty as a black or Latino or Asian or other minority is to overcome it. That’s all upon you to choose to do so.
If that sounds insane, and it sounds like “Hey, Thomas is absolving all of white America of racism even though he knows it exists in 2015” and “Why are minorities the bad guys here?” then you’re correct. The free market will fix this. It’s dangerous thinking, and yet the evidence is pretty solid that the Civil Rights era in America is ending, thanks in large part to Thomas.