Playing the Victim
In the wake of the leaked opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas's cry of bullying demonstrates just how insular and unaware the Supreme Court can be
Clarence Thomas has long played the victim. Three decades after his televised confirmation hearings in 1991, when former aide Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment, it’s impossible to forget his characterization of the experience as a “high-tech lynching.” He subsequently took a seat on the Supreme Court by a vote of 52 to 48.
Justice Thomas held a particularly curious position on the Court because of his refusal to ask questions or verbally assert his opinions. Before 2016, he went an entire decade without asking a single question. This low profile was a modern record, even though there was little doubt that he was among the most conservative members of the Court.
But this week the reticent Thomas had plenty to say about the public furor over the leaked opinion that will likely deep-six Roe v. Wade, and it sheds light on the insular, hypocritical mindset that drives this exceedingly powerful man who is protected with a lifetime appointment.
As a society, “we are becoming addicted to wanting particular outcomes, not living with the outcomes we don't like,” Thomas said Friday at a judicial conference in Atlanta. Likely referring to the leaking of the opinion and the virulent public outcry about the position, he added, “We can’t be an institution that can be bullied into giving you just the outcomes you want. The events from earlier this week are a symptom of that.”
Seriously? This from a Justice bent on denying reproductive rights to women, the will of the people be damned. This from one of the majority of Justices bent on tossing aside a 50-year precedent, which many of those same Justices claimed was settled law, to achieve their desired outcome.
Thomas had more to say, too, complaining about declining respect for institutions and the rule of law, particularly among young people. “This bodes ill for society,” he opined.
This from a Justice who shamelessly voted against the release of materials related to the January 6 Capitol attack (in an 8-1 decision), despite the role of his wife Ginni in advocating with Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows for the overthrow of a legitimately elected president. (Any lingering doubt that Congress must pass the Supreme Court Ethics Act?)
The lack of self-awareness aside, Thomas’ talk of bullying is particularly rich as this increasingly politicized Court appears hell-bent on turning back the clock and pushing the country toward theocracy. As eight-foot, “non-scalable” fencing has been erected around the Supreme Court building, it’s worth asking who’s the victim here.
I’ve hesitated to shift my focus to the midterms yet, convinced that it was too early to know with much confidence where things are heading—or what issues and arguments could propel voter turnout to overcome traditional Republican advantages. Securing voting rights? Saving democracy? Avoiding GOP slashing of social programs?
Well, there is now a clear, world-altering issue on the agenda that will be powerfully felt by most of America, assuming the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. The growing expansion of abortion bans and the loss of women’s reproductive rights should be the clearest possible issue to put an end to midterm apathy.
A poll in late March found that half of women and men voters said that increased restrictions on abortion would make them more likely to vote and about a third said they’d be much more likely to vote. I suspect those numbers are likely to go up in the coming months.
For all those young people who assumed an expanding array of personal liberties, these midterms are likely to be the difference between enabling the will of the majority to decide the nation’s fate or allowing an increasingly vicious, autocratic and misogynistic minority to control their bodies and their future.
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