“In “The Enigma of Clarence Thomas,” Corey Robin presents a case that also happens to be a high-wire act — that the Supreme Court justice who almost never speaks from the bench, who writes controversial opinions paying little heed to legal precedent, is in fact quite explicable.
Other observers of the court have portrayed Thomas as a Constitutional purist, determined to uncover the document’s original meaning, but “Thomas’s originalism is at best episodic,” Robin writes, arguing that it doesn’t entirely cohere. More consistent has been something plenty of people don’t know about — and that those who do tend to brush aside as a bygone chapter from Thomas’s past.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Thomas was a self-described “radical” and adherent of Malcolm X. He took up the cause of the Black Panthers and marched against the Vietnam War. He was a black nationalist — and according to Robin, he still is. Far from abandoning his old views on race, Robin says, the longest-serving justice on the current Supreme Court has retrofitted those views to propel a conservative agenda.
“Thomas is a black man whose conservatism is overwhelmingly defined by and oriented toward the interests of black people, as he understands them,” Robin writes. The black nationalism underpinning his jurisprudence is a “secret hiding in plain sight.” “
David Lindsay: This report really surprised me. It is good to learn somethin completely new every day. Before this, I never saw any redeeming quality in Clarence Thomas.