The Clarence Thomas Bandwagon

August 12, 1991

Is the confirmation process for Supreme Court justices getting out of hand? Is it becoming too much of a political campaign? It sure looks like it is in the present case of Judge Clarence Thomas. There is more overt and covert politicking going on here than in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Consider that a conservative organization in Washington paid to bring 45 of Judge Thomas' old neighbors from his little home town of Pin Point, Ga., to Washington to show their support and pride and to lobby for him. A pure media event. Consider that Judge Thomas has personally visited 59 senators to seek their votes. Consider that he met privately with representatives of the NAACP and was asked pointed questions about his views on legal issues. We think he was wrong to go to such a meeting -- what a precedent! -- but at least he refused to answer the questions.

Meanwhile, numerous other special interest groups have already announced their support or opposition to the nomination, including one created just for the occasion: Women for Thomas. That is pure politics. There had already been approximately 80 individual group endorsements and oppositions to this nomination before the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights announced a "consensus" opposition among its 185 organizations. Some seemed based on the narrowest of grounds, even on a single issue. In some cases those speaking for groups are not necessarily representative of them.

There is something out of sync when the NAACP's directors vote 49-1 against the nomination and a USA Today poll of adult blacks shows overwhelming approval of the nominee. The directors have studied the record of Judge Thomas more thoroughly than have the rank and file, but even after that record is widely publicized, it is unlikely in the extreme that anything approaching 95 percent of black Americans will oppose the nomination of Judge Thomas. (Delegates to the all-black National Bar Association's convention were almost evenly divided on the Thomas nomination.)

We have the same concern about the AFL-CIO's executive council vote of 35-0 to oppose Judge Thomas, when an ABC poll of union households showed more supported than opposed the judge. The National Organization for Women's officers and convention delegates voted unanimously to oppose the Thomas nomination. We doubt if even the 250,000 NOW members are that solidly opposed, much less all women. (The ABC poll showed a majority of women supporting Judge Thomas.)

The Democratic Party relies heavily on blacks, labor and women. When representatives of those groups speak out, Democratic senators should pay respectful attention. But they also should try to determine if the leaders of such organizations truly speak for the masses of blacks, unionists and women. In this case, we doubt that they do.

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