Justice Clarence Thomas, the second black man to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, is practically absent from the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Anita Hill, the woman who accused Thomas of sexual harassment, however, is given prominent billing in the museum.
The new Smithsonian, which opened in September, gives Hill pride of place in an exhibit on blacks in the 1990s. The exhibit features testimonies trumpeting her courage and the surge of women’s activism that ensued, while making only peripheral reference to the nation’s second black Supreme Court justice.
There is no showcase of Thomas’ own life and career, which ran its own harsh gauntlet of racial discrimination.
“I am not surprised that Justice Thomas’ inspiring life story is not a part of the new museum,” said Mark Paoletta, an assistant White House Counsel in the George H. W. Bush administration who worked on the Thomas confirmation. “Civil rights leaders have tried for decades to malign Justice Thomas because he actually dares to have his own views on race issues. One prominent liberal Supreme Court practitioner has called Justice Thomas ‘our greatest justice,’ but you would never know that listening to the civil rights leadership.”
The exclusion is especially odd given Thomas’ intimate experience with racial discrimination.
Thomas was born in Georgia’s coastal lowlands among impoverished Gullah-speakers. By his own account, he did not master the Queen’s English until his early 20s. He came of age in Jim Crow Savannah, where he was in turn ridiculed by white neighbors and classmates for his unpolished style, one of many indignities typical of his adolescence in the racist South. The startling racial injustices of his youth, by discipline and sheer force of will, gave way to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Yale Law School.
Prior to his appointment to the bench, he served as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency tasked with policing discrimination in the private sector.
The EEOC of 1982 was mired in an administrative tarpit. A Government Accountability Office report issued two months into his tenure criticized years of fiscal malfeasance. The report found the absence of internal accounting controls left bills unpaid, receivables uncollected, and that federally mandated records were largely unreliable.
By all accounts, Thomas was a diligent administrator effectively completing a thankless task, reforming an inert agency for a new era. He oversaw the opening of a new headquarters, introduced new technologies like personal computers, and won one of the largest workplace discrimination settlements in the history of the agency, securing a $42.5 million award from an automaker in 1983.
His litigation methods, however, were deeply unpopular with the civil rights firmament. He abandoned class-action lawsuits and findings of discrimination based on statistics. He saw both mechanisms as tools for bludgeoning the private sector into compliance with a clientelistic agenda, in which corporate entities would agree to timetables and quotas devised by white liberals for hiring minorities, while making sizable donations to black social organizations.
Thomas feared the rot which would attend such practices over time, wherein the worthy cause of racial justice would decay to a base form of racial patronage. He instead favored bringing actions on behalf of individuals, which he saw as corresponding to the dignity of individuals in the way class action suits do not.
“What happened to the people actually discriminated against?” Paoletta said in reference to Thomas’ view. “Where was their remedy?”
He was a presence in the Reagan White House on other matters of controversy. He criticized the administration’s decision to support tax-exempt status for Bob Jones University, a segregationist institution, and openly admonished the U.S. Department of Justice for setting a “negative agenda.”
None of this work, however, let alone more than two decades on the nation’s highest court, earned a mention in the museum.
Another black pioneer of the judiciary has been excluded from the museum. Judge Janice Rogers Brown, the first black woman to serve on the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (generally regarded as the second-highest court in the land), is also not featured. Brown is a George W. Bush appointee to the federal bench and is a committed libertarian jurist.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture did not respond to multiple inquiries by press time.
Originally published by the The Daily Caller News Foundation.
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