WASHINGTON -- With only a single dissenting vote, the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People decided yesterday to fight "with all the resources we have" the nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, giving opposition to his confirmation a major boost.
Later in the day, the AFL-CIO Executive Council announced that the labor alliance also will oppose Judge Thomas' confirmation.
The NAACP's board chairman, Dr. William F. Gibson, a Columbia, S.C., dentist, said at a news conference that Judge Thomas' "reactionary philosophical approach to a number of issues, not the least of which is affirmative action," was "simply inconsistent with the historical positions taken by the NAACP."
Senate confirmation of the controversial black conservative "would be inimical to the best interests of African Americans," Dr. Gibson said. "It is therefore with regret that we are compelled to oppose the confirmation of Judge Thomas."
At the White House, deputy press secretary Gary Foster said, "We are disappointed that . . . the NAACP board decided to take an ideological stand in opposition to Judge Thomas' nomination. Judge Thomas continues to enjoy diverse and growing support. We are confident he will be confirmed."
On the road to yesterday's decision, a special committee of the NAACP -- reportedly including Dr. Gibson and the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the NAACP -- met in secret with Judge Thomas about two weeks ago. NAACP officials would reveal no details of the meeting, but Dr. Gibson said in his statement: "Our discussions were open and candid, and the results were taken into full consideration."
Asked several times yesterday whether the board's decision to oppose Judge Thomas was unanimous, Dr. Gibson replied each time that "all [board members] were in accord."
Later, NAACP sources said the board's final vote on its decision was 49-1 -- although there were reports that the board was more divided before the final vote was taken on a motion for unanimity. The dissenting vote was reportedly cast by Ben Andrews, a former Republican city councilman in Hartford, Conn. Others on the 64-member board were absent.
Dr. Gibson promised that the NAACP would launch a "full-court press" against Judge Thomas. But the main attack is likely to come from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the coalition that led a successful effort to prevent the confirmation of Judge Robert H. Bork for a Supreme Court seat in 1987.
The NAACP is the key member of the Leadership Conference; Dr. Hooks is chairman of the coalition. The AFL-CIO sits on its executive committee.
Ralph G. Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference, said yesterday that its executive committee would meet "within a week" to seek a consensus among the coalition's 185 member organizations on whether to launch a campaign against Judge Thomas' confirmation.
The NAACP decision, Mr. Neas said, "will obviously have a
significant impact" on the views of other members of the coalition. In fact, the Leadership Conference's attack is ready to go; Mr. Neas' staff has been gearing up for it almost since President Bush's nomination of Judge Thomas was announced.
The AFL-CIO's statement denounced the president's nomination of Judge Thomas as "disgraceful."
"We take no pleasure in yet another difficult dispute over the future direction of the high court," the statement said. "But as was true with the nomination of Robert Bork, the president's apparent resolve to use the appointment power to make the court the preserve of the far right wing leaves us no other choice."
"Judge Thomas has stated that he finds it 'disgraceful' that Mr. Bork is not now Justice Bork," the statement added. "What we find disgraceful is this continuing effort at court-packing."
The NAACP statement also dealt with the issue of the Supreme '' Court's composition -- but from another view: "We believe the importance of an African American as a replacement for [Justice] Thurgood Marshall should not be underestimated. Diversity on the Supreme Court is absolutely essential."
"While we appreciate the fact that Judge Thomas came up in the school of hard knocks and pulled himself up by his own bootstraps -- as many other black Americans have -- our concern HTC is for the millions of blacks who have no access to bootstraps," Dr. Gibson said.
Judge Thomas, who sits on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, learned of the NAACP's decision while he was making protocol visits to senators -- accompanied by a delegation from his days in "the school of hard knocks" -- 46 residents and relatives from Pinpoint, Ga., his hometown.
He merely shrugged and smiled when told of the NAACP action.
Earlier, in one of the House of Representatives' office buildings, he had a boisterous breakfast of sausage, eggs and hash brown potatoes, which he ate intermittently while posing for pictures and reminiscing with his Pinpoint guests, who had come to Washington on a 10-hour bus ride to lend him their support.
"I couldn't go home, so home has come to me," he told them.