Will Judge Thomas Be Borked?

August 04, 1991

With the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People now out front in tortured opposition to Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, the country is in for another "borking." This new word in the political vocabulary derives from the massive public relations campaign in 1987 that led to Senate rejection of Judge Robert H. Bork, the only out-and-out defeat the liberal establishment ever administered to President Reagan.

Like Mr. Bork, U.S. Appeals Court Judge Thomas is a self-proclaimed conservative, an opponent of goal-setting affirmative action, a putative opponent of the Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision and a man who supposedly would continue the Supreme Court's massive swing to the right. But unlike Mr. Bork, Judge Thomas is black -- only the second member of his race ever nominated for the nation's top tribunal. Therein lies the drama and import behind the NAACP decision.

Had the NAACP not come out against Judge Thomas, his confirmation would have been assured. The National Urban League already had opted for neutrality. Many black politicians, including Maryland's Carl Stokes, Nathan C. Irby Jr., Carl Snowden, Howard P. Rawlings, Gregory K. Washington and Kweisi Mfume have had kind words for the nominee. But with the nation's premier civil rights organization vowing "to use all the resources we have" to fight the nomination, the way is cleared for revival of the broad liberal coalition, with labor and women's groups, that "borked" the Reagan administration four years ago. The Senate's August recess gives liberals a chance to go to the country and put on a "full court press" before confirmation hearings begin after Labor Day.

What makes this nomination such a dilemma for black America (( was tellingly revealed in the NAACP's statement that "the importance of an African American as a replacement [for retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall] should not be underestimated." It said "the NAACP and the black community must and will continue to fight until an appropriate replacement who embodies the views of the majority of black Americans is nominated and confirmed."

Yet political realities suggest that if Judge Thomas is rejected, President Bush is likely to select a conservative Hispanic-American for the Marshall seat. And an "appropriate replacement," by NAACP standards, cannot come until a Democrat is elected president -- a longshot prospect in 1992.

The NAACP also made the comment that "Judge Thomas' inconsistent views on civil rights policy make him an unpredictable element on an increasingly radical conservative court." [Italics ours.] Inadvertently, that defines the dilemma. Judge Thomas, having been reared poor and segregated in Georgia, would bring to the court sensitivities that could confound the conservative movement.

That's why this newspaper believes Americans should withhold judgment for or against this nominee until Judge Thomas' personal philosophy, his temperament and his legal competence are plumbed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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