The nomination of Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court of the United States served as a multiple personality test for the United States Senate as well as for the nominee and his adversaries.
For the U.S. Senate, the question is: what’s the rush? Why rush the nomination for a life-time position on the highest court with only a few days hearings and then onto the Senate floor for a vote without a printed report by the Judiciary Committee members digesting their views? Why rush the debate through a mere seven hours on the day of the vote?
Nominations of Supreme Court Justices present a rare opportunity for public education and discussion about our constitutional form of government. Senate Committees spend more time on legislation that is also controversial year after year than was spent on the Thomas nomination.
Much was made of Judge Thomas’ 104 day ordeal. Over 90% of those days he was in seclusion or privately meeting with individual Senators. The rush began with the start of the hearings in mid-September. The rush continued when all 100 Senators did not object to an unanimous consent rule to have limited debate and get it over on the Senate floor in just one day.
Three days after the vote I spoke with Presidential candidate,
Senator Tom Harkin (Dem. Iowa), about the nomination. He said what helped Judge Thomas was the unanimous consent rule, which he also declined to oppose, though he voted against the Judge’s nomination.
All this is not mere procedural minutiae. For the overwhelming factor in the Senate debate on October 15 were the charges by Anita Hill, and Clarence Thomas’ response. But there was much more to evaluating Judge Thomas that was displaced or ignored.
Amidst the uproar over Professor Hill’s story, the way the Judiciary Committee staff handled the matter and the behavior of the Senators in their questioning of the witnesses, there was lost the coarse record and beliefs of Judge Thomas.
During the past ten years, Clarence Thomas was an open and avid supporter and administrator for the Reagan/Bush/Ed Meese ideology of reaction. This ideology has three main components -(1) the supremacy of concentrated executive power (the White House) over the legislative and judicial branches of government; (2) sharply reduced law enforcement towards corporate crime, fraud and monopolization and (3) reduction of the rights of individuals to use the laws to challenge or stop the abuses of both business and government.
Spelled out, these dogmas mean less consumer, environmental and worker rights and protections, a weakened citizenry blocked from participating in governmental decisions, and more privileges on the backs of taxpayers for the rich and power. More bailouts, ‘subsidies, wasteful government contracts to big companies and less enforcement of the civil rights laws are also part of this
Mr. Thomas’ practice of ridiculing civil rights and equal employment opportunity decisions, while receiving rebukes from federal judges for not enforcing these laws when he was running the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was one of many reasons for most veteran civil rights leaders and all but one African-American member of Congress opposing his nomination.
By the time the vote occurred in both Committee and before the entire Senate neither the Senators nor the media were interested in either nourishing or reminding the public of his Reagan/Bush work record and his astonishing plutocratic philosophy of the law.
The near total domination of the public attention by the Hill vs. Thomas conflict accounts for the polls going for the Judge. Thomas had a huge White House propaganda machine and tough Senators (for prime time tv) testimony. The Democratic Senators, who opposed Thomas, did not defend Ms. Hill and seemed, on Saturday, as if they were on sleeping pills while Senators Hatch, Specter, and Simpson were breathing odious fire.
Fanned by Pro-Thomas evangelical television programs repeatedly listing the Senators phone numbers on their screens, the calls from Southern states came in heavily for the Judge.
Fortunately, many people who supported Thomas will have an opportunity to see whether their judgment was correct or not. They will be able to see and feel his judicial decisions for many years in their own lives. They should not be surprised if this member of the Reagan/Bush/Ed Meese team contributes to the further squeezing of our society’s democratic rights in favor of statism and wealthy lobbies.
Justice Thurgood Marshall was not at his Supreme Court chambers to greet his replacement. Believing that Thomas was going to be confirmed, he had quit three weeks ago, despite telling Mr. Bush in July that he would stay until a “qualified successor” was confirmed. Thurgood Marshall, the eminent fighter for civil rights for the past 50 years, must be shaking his head over the man who replaced him.