February 20, 2024

A Stalwart Role Model for Black History Month: Clarence Thomas

Carter G. Woodson is extensively credited with the activism that, in 1926, established per week, and later a month, to concentrate on the historical past and contributions of black Americans.

In his message on the observance of Black History Month 50 years later, President Gerald R. Ford related Black History Month to “the realization of the ideals envisioned by our Founding Fathers,” akin to “[f]reedom and the recognition of individual rights.”

For greater than 4 a long time—even earlier than he joined the Supreme Court in 1991—Justice Clarence Thomas has profoundly contributed to creating these beliefs each actual and lasting by doggedly defending true equality earlier than the regulation.

The group Woodson based in 1915, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, explains that he selected February for this observance due to its connection to “two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history; namely, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.”

Black communities had for a long time been celebrating each of these leaders by marking their birthdays in mid-February.

Douglass, a former slave, delivered his well-known “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July” speech in Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852, almost a decade earlier than the Civil War.

Calling the Constitution a “glorious liberty document,” Douglass mentioned: “Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand, it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.”

In different phrases, true equality earlier than the regulation, anchored within the constant “plain reading” of the Constitution, is the important thing to freedom and particular person liberty for all.

Douglass argued that the Constitution can manifest the Declaration of Independence’s precept of equality solely by specializing in “the text and only the text.”

Four years later, Justice Benjamin Curtis mentioned the identical in his 1856 Dred Scott v. Sandford dissent. When a “strict interpretation of the Constitution, according to the fixed rules which govern the interpretation of laws, is abandoned, and the theoretical opinions of individuals are allowed to control its meaning,” Curtis wrote, “we have no longer a Constitution. We are under the government of individual men who, for the time being, have power to declare what the Constitution is, according to their own views of what it ought to mean.”

Fast-forward greater than 130 years. Thomas, throughout his lengthy tenure as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, related these ideas in a speech at The Heritage Foundation the day after Constitution Day, 1987. (The Daily Signal is the information outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)

“Equality of rights, not of possessions or entitlements,” he mentioned, “offer[s] the opportunity to be free and self-governing. … [We] must acknowledge each other’s freedom and govern only by the consent of others.”

These, in fact, are the very “self-evident truths” asserted within the Declaration of Independence. Two years after his speech at The Heritage Foundation, on the eve of his first federal courtroom nomination, Thomas certainly wrote concerning the Constitution as a “logical extension of the Declaration.”

This, in fact, could be true provided that, as Douglass and Curtis had argued, judges take the Constitution as it’s, in accordance its “plain reading.”

Thomas has not changed.

In an interview with two authorized commentators in 2008, nearing his 20th yr on the Supreme Court, Thomas said: “[I]t’s not my constitution to play around with. … I don’t feel I have any particular right to put my gloss on your constitution. My job is simply to interpret it. … People say, ‘You are an originalist.’ I just think that we should interpret the Constitution as it’s drafted, not as we would have drafted it.”

A yr earlier, Thomas joined the bulk in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, which held that assigning college students to varsities by race is unconstitutional within the absence of any previous de jure discrimination.

Giving college boards “a free hand to make decisions on the basis of race,” he wrote, is “reminiscent of [the approach] advocated by the segregationists in Brown v. Board of Education” … . This method is simply as flawed in the present day because it was a half-century in the past.”

The Constitution, Thomas argued, “require[s] us to be much more demanding before permitting local school boards to make decisions based on race.” The Constitution to which he referred, in fact, is the true one, the one implementing the declaration’s precept of equality, the one which has not been captured by political pursuits.

Thomas, due to this fact, is making an infinite contribution to black historical past by demonstrating what it means to take the ideas of freedom and particular person rights critically. He is ready to do that, decade after decade, due to a depth of personal character that acts by conviction, somewhat than worry.

His speech on Feb. 13, 2001, on the American Enterprise Institute, actually, was titled “Be Not Afraid.” One have to be “clear and confident about one’s judicial philosophy and have the courage to stand by the decisions that an honest adherence to the law requires.”

Thomas cited Alexander Hamilton from The Federalist No. 78 about the necessity to decrease “arbitrary discretion in the courts.”

He defined that “judges should adopt principles of interpretation and methods of analysis that reduce judicial discretion.” These embody “seek[ing] the original understanding of the provision’s text if the meaning of that text is not readily apparent.”

Those ideas and their neutral software, not the slings and arrows of “those who will respond as brutes,” must be the idea for debate concerning the judiciary’s energy and the appointment of its judges. “It is bravery,” Thomas mentioned, “that is required to secure freedom.”

Thomas has served on the Supreme Court for almost 33 years and is now on the Top 10 checklist of longest-serving members.

Thankfully, nevertheless, his contribution to our freedom will proceed. He has impressed legions of law clerks who are actually professors, practitioners, and federal judges themselves. One of them, U.S. Circuit Judge James Ho, who clerked for Thomas throughout the 2005-2006 time period, delivered the 2023 Joseph Story Distinguished Lecture at The Heritage Foundation and titled it “Pressure Is a Privilege: Judges, Umpires, and Ignoring the Booing of the Crowd.”

He not solely argued that originalism is the one professional technique of interpretation, however provided three ideas to judges when the group boos—count on it, get used it to it, and get snug with it. Do your job, Ho urged, after which go residence.

During Black History Month—and all different occasions—we should have fun those that stand agency for the ideas that make freedom and particular person rights doable. Clarence Thomas is on the prime of the checklist.

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