Saturday, March 20, 2010

My History with Justice Clarence Thomas

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

If Quentin Tarantino ever brings the story of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to the silver screen, my bet is that he will title it "Incurious Bastard!" For indeed, the hallmark of Justice Thomas's tenure on the highest court in the land is his complete lack of curiosity about anything - such as the facts regarding the cases that the Court reviews. He never talks, he never asks questions. Justice Thomas just sits, and mulls, and votes with the conservatives.

Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1991 by the first President Bush. Bush was looking for a black man to replace Thurgood Marshall on the Court, but he certainly did not want one with Marshall's broad intellect or dedication to the nation's poor and minorities. Bush wanted a conservative parrot, and he found that bird in Clarence Thomas.

Justice Thomas was not going to be a friend to the unwashed masses, but after a scathing hearing on his nomination where Professor Anita Hill told the entire nation about his penchant for sexual harassment and dirty jokes, the new Justice went on the Court carrying a chip on his shoulder the size of a Mississippi Ten Commandments monument.

He would serve, he would vote with the Neanderthals, but it would be a cold day in hell when he would open himself up to another beating in the press. Clarence Thomas was and still is our most reclusive Supreme Court Justice.

Clarence Thomas is married to a conservative activist named Virginia Lamp Thomas, an attorney who is mired in conservative causes. Mrs. Thomas has worked for such right-wing organizations as the Heritage Foundation and the (Baby) Bush White House.

This past week Virginia Thomas made news when it was announced that she is forming her own Teabagger support group to promote right-wing causes. The group will be, among other things, collecting money to support conservative candidates. It is very likely that Mrs. Thomas will pay herself a salary from the group's accounts, a salary that will benefit not only herself, but, by association, her husband, Clarence, as well.

Some of the money that Mrs. Thomas collects will probably be from corporations - that is, after all, where much of America's wealth is located. That becomes significant because just a couple of months ago her husband cast the deciding vote in Citizen's United v FEC, a vote that basically struck down campaign finance reform and freed corporations to put as much money as they damned well pleased into the American political system - as if they didn't have enough political clout already!

The Court bought into the notion that money is speech, and speech should not be limited. It was a great day for the Republican party because it brought so much more "speech" into the political process.

A decision that Clarence Thomas caused to occur stands a very good chance of being of financial benefit to his wife - and himself. But we will never hear Clarence Thomas discuss the apparent conflict of interest in his vote and his wife's business, because he keeps his mouth shut - good and tight!

I was a graduate student at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, from 1997 until 1999. On April 8, 1998, Justice Clarence Thomas came to campus and spoke at the University's Law School. I would have gone to hear him speak, but I wasn't invited. In fact, nobody was invited except for law school students and faculty. In fact, the speech was TOP SECRET!

The following week a journalism student, David Scott, broke the news of the visit in the student newspaper, The Maneater. According to the article by Scott, Tim Heinsz, the dean of MU's School of Law, gave MU's News Bureau specific instructions not to announce the appearance, and Heinsz went on to say that any member of the media who did show up at the lecture would be removed by federal marshals.

It was outrageous - and David Scott was duly outraged. Several law school students wrote letters-to-the-editor to chastise Mr. Scott for picking on the dean and demeaning "their" law school, but Scott sparred ferociously and gave as good as he got. The argument over what was and was not proper at a public university went on for several weeks in the pages of The Maneater. The law students were pissed at Scott, Scott was pissed at the haughty dean, and the Dean Heinsz stayed well above the fray.

But one important group remained eerily silent. The student body at MU was more focused on studies, fornicating, and happy hour at Harpo's than in the political intrigues of the law school. Well, all but one student, that is. What follows is the only letter written to The Maneater in support of journalist David Scott and his crusade against the elitist crap that was emanating from the School of Law. It was published on April 17, 1998. That letter follows:

To the Editor,

My first reaction upon reading David Scott's column regarding the Clarence Thomas visit to MU was to check the front page - either I had picked up the April Fool's edition by mistake, or I hd overlooked a major story. Neither was the case. A Supreme Court justice had visited my university, and I had been denied the rare opportunity to hear, or at the very least see, an individual who plays a critical role in interpreting the law of our land.

Why? Apparently Tim Heinsz, the dean of the MU School of Law, chose to keep the event a secret. If Scott's facts are correct, and I have no reason to suspect that they aren't, the dean instructed the News Bureau not to announce the visit. That in itself is outrageous and feeds into the stereotype of lawyers being sneaky and deceitful, but it gets worse. According to Scott, the MU News Bureau was told that any member of the media who showed up at the Thomas lecture would be removed by federal marshals! (Has the First Amendment been repealed? Can you say "Gestapo?")

This is an important story - one that deserves more coverage. I would hope The Maneater will press Dean Heinsz to explain his strange behavior. Perhaps as atonement, he could invite Justice Thomas back to Columbia and the two could conduct a public symposium on the importance of a free press in a democratic society.

Rocky Macy
Graduate Student

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