Black lawmakers split with NAACP and tout Thomas

August 02, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- In the matter of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, the word from black politicians in Maryland yesterday was, "Confirm him."

A sampling of political figures didn't follow the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's lead in opposing the Thomas nomination.

"When he gets on the court," said Baltimore Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, "people say he'll do the right thing. They don't know his views on affirmative action or the rest of it. They just see him as an African-American who came up poor and black. He's got to know the pain and suffering of black people. He'll do all right by us."

State Sen. Nathan C. Irby Jr., D-Baltimore, said: "People look at his very humble beginnings and they can relate to that. This guy didn't come with a silver spoon. He had to hustle all the way."

By opposing the conservative jurist who sometimes has appeared hostile to such anti-discrimination measures as affirmative action, the NAACP and the AFL-CIO showed "political naivete at its worst," in the view of Annapolis Alderman Carl Snowden.

"He is not Thurgood Marshall," Mr. Snowden said, referring to the retiring Supreme Court justice whom Mr. Thomas would replace. "But no one expected this conservative president to appoint another Thurgood Marshall."

Mr. Snowden said he differs with Mr. Thomas on a number of issues and called him "a bad candidate." But the reality, he said, is that President Bush would not nominate another black candidate if Judge Thomas were rejected by the U.S. Senate.

"We're faced with the real possibility of going into the 21st century with no African-American serving on the Supreme Court and, by defeating Thomas, having a conservative even more to the right than Clarence Thomas," he said.

What is needed from the NAACP, Mr. Snowden said, is a strategy that recognizes the solid conservative majority on the court -- a majority that exists without Mr. Thomas.

"If you defeat Thomas," he asked, "where is the victory?"

Delegate Howard A. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, said the nomination of Judge Thomas and the NAACP's opposition are both signs of a society getting healthier.

"I think it's important that a result of the struggle for civil rights . . . has been to allow black men and women to participate in the full range of this society, and that certainly means a conservative Republican African-American should have that right as much as anyone else," he said.

Mr. Rawlings said he opposes some of Judge Thomas' views but is attracted by others. He said he fears that the next Bush nominee would not have the judge's "unique background."

"I understand why the NAACP and the AFL-CIO are opposing him. I think that's healthy also. It's healthy in that they are making a judgment not solely based on the fact that he's an African-American, but on his position on the issues," he said.

Mr. Rawlings and others said the controversy shows that thinking among black Americans is not monolithic.

The NAACP, says Gregory K. Washington, chairman of the Maryland Black Republican Council, "has made a tragic mistake. They have shot themselves in the foot. Just because a nominee does not share their liberal principles, they will take it upon themselves to oppose the nomination."

Avoiding the controversy for the moment, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he would not take a position until after the confirmation hearings.

"There are some things I don't agree with him on, but I prefer to withhold final judgment," the mayor said.

Opposition to Judge Thomas appeared to be holding firm in the Maryland ranks of organized labor, however.

Margareta Crampton, the AFL-CIO's political director, said there is concern that the alternative to Judge Thomas could be even less palatable.

Ms. Crampton said that labor has not polled its members on Judge Thomas, but that its representatives across the state agree that he would not be "a friend of labor on the court."

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