The high court and low politics

March 01, 2007|By THOMAS SOWELL

Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York said that you are entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts. However, many on the political left act as if they are entitled to their own facts - and especially the "fact" that those who oppose their ideas are either intellectually or morally inferior.

In other words, you cannot oppose "diversity," gun control, global warming hysteria or gay marriage unless there is something wrong with you. No hard evidence is necessary to support this conclusion. Indeed, no hard evidence can change this conviction.

No one has been denigrated and demonized by this mindset more than Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The charge has been endlessly repeated that he is "not qualified" - with no evidence being offered or asked for.

His outstanding academic record in college, his graduation from one of the top law schools in the country, his experience as an attorney in government and in the corporate world, his years of heading a federal agency, and his service as a judge on the most influential federal Circuit Court in the country count for nothing as far as the left is concerned.

Many, if not most, Supreme Court justices have not had as good a record of qualifications.

A recent book on the Supreme Court has a chapter on Justice Thomas that devastates what has been said about him in the media - Supreme Conflict by Jan Crawford Greenburg.

What will come as a shock to many who read this fact-filled book is that the picture of Justice Thomas as a blind follower of Justice Antonin Scalia, with whom he often votes, is completely different from the reality.

Notes made by Justice Harry A. Blackmun during discussions of issues among the justices make it clear that from day one, Justice Thomas staked out his own positions on issues, even when all eight of his senior colleagues took the opposite position.

Often it was Justice Thomas whose arguments won over Justice Scalia and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist - and sometimes enough others for a majority.

That much of this information came from notes made during judicial conferences by the late Justice Blackmun, whose views were antithetical to those of Justice Thomas, adds more weight to the conclusion that media depictions of Justice Thomas reflect what many in the media felt a need to believe, rather than any facts.

While many will find that the most devastating chapter in the book, Supreme Conflict is a major contribution to a general understanding of the way the Supreme Court works - and the way politics works in selecting people to nominate to become justices.

Supreme Conflict also has a human dimension that offers valuable, if depressing, insights into the internal politics of the Supreme Court and the politics of the process by which nominees to that court are selected and confirmed.

The mystery of how Sandra Day O'Connor reached some of her incoherent opinions becomes easier to understand when her own words reveal what a petty and shallow justice she was, with her eye firmly fixed on the little picture and oblivious to the momentous implications of her dubious decisions.

This book also throws light on the decisions of a succession of Republican presidents who repeatedly nominated people to the Supreme Court whose votes as justices turned out to be the opposite of what these presidents expected.

These presidents, often with their eyes on the little picture as well, loaded the court with liberal justices. But Democratic presidents put only one conservative there in nearly half a century, Justice Byron White.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His column appears Thursdays in The Sun. His e-mail is

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