High Court and Low Politics

The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that you are entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts. However, many on the political left act as if they are entitled to their own facts — and especially the “fact” that those who oppose their ideas are either intellectually or morally inferior.

In other words, you cannot oppose “diversity,” gun control, global warming, or gay marriage unless there is something wrong with you. No hard evidence is necessary to support this conclusion. Indeed, no hard evidence can change this conviction.

No one has been denigrated and demonized by this mindset more than Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The charge has been endlessly repeated that he is “not qualified” — with no evidence being offered or asked for.

His outstanding academic record in college, his graduation from one of the top law schools in the country, his experience as an attorney both in government and in the corporate world, his years of heading a federal agency, and his service as a judge on the most influential federal circuit court in the country count for nothing, as far as the left is concerned.

Many, if not most, Supreme Court justices have not had as good a record of qualifications. But Clarence Thomas is considered “unqualified” because the left cannot accept his qualifications without a major shock to their whole vision of the world — and of themselves.

A recent book on the Supreme Court in general has a chapter on Justice Thomas that devastates what has been said about him in the media. That book is “Supreme Conflict” by Jan Crawford Greenburg.

What will come as a shock to many who read this fact-filled book is that the picture of Justice Thomas as a blind follower of Justice Antonin Scalia, with whom he often votes, is completely different from the reality.

Notes made by Justice Harry Blackmun during discussions of issues among the justices make it clear that from day one Clarence Thomas staked out his own position on issues, even when all eight of his senior colleagues took the opposite position.

Often it was Justice Thomas whose arguments won over Justice Scalia and Chief Justice Rehnquist — and sometimes enough others for a majority.

That much of this information came from notes made during judicial conferences by the late Harry Blackmun, whose views were antithetical to those of Clarence Thomas, adds more weight to the conclusion that media depictions of Justice Thomas reflect what many in the media felt a need to believe, rather than any facts.

While many will find this the most devastating chapter in the book, “Supreme Conflict” is a major contribution to a general understanding of the way the Supreme Court works — and the way politics works in selecting people to nominate to become justices.

Author Jan Crawford Greenburg understands both liberal and conservative arguments within and about the High Court, and tries to get the reader to understand those arguments, rather than leading the reader to favor one argument or the other.

Although she is a journalist, the scholarship that went into this book is of a higher caliber than many academic scholars achieve in writing about the law or about the Supreme Court.

“Supreme Conflict” also has a human dimension that offers valuable, even if depressing, insights into the internal politics of the Supreme Court and the politics of the process by which nominees to that court are selected and confirmed.

The mystery of how Justice Sandra Day O’Connor reached some of her incoherent opinions becomes easier to understand when her own words reveal what a petty and shallow person she was on the Supreme Court, with her eye firmly fixed on the little picture and oblivious to the momentous implications of her dubious decisions.

This book also throws light on the decisions of a succession of Republican presidents, who repeatedly nominated people to the Supreme Court whose votes as justices turned out to be the opposite of what these presidents expected.

These conservative Republican presidents, often with their eyes on the little picture as well, loaded the court with liberal justices. But Democratic presidents put only one conservative there in nearly half a century, Justice Byron White.