Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Did Justice Thomas shed some light on why he may have been such an unappealing hire?


In court or out, Justice Thomas enjoys a good laugh: It's possible that, as the justice has always insisted, disdain for beneficiaries of affirmative action made him such a difficult hire coming out of Yale Law School. Or it's possible that there were other factors.

by Ken

This is why it's so valuable to have media surrogates who patrol their beats.

I expect that, like me, you heard the story of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas breaking his famous open-court silence the other day, allowing his voice to be heard, albeit briefly, for the first time since 2006. And I'll bet that in the accounts you heard or read, there was just some puzzling reference to his making a joke and then reverting to silence.

Nothing to be gleaned from that, right?

Well, not if you're Jeffrey Toobin. The Supreme Court is emphatically part of the New Yorker legal-affairs correspondent's beat. And although, as he tells us in the blogpost "Clarence Thomas Speaks, Finally," he wasn't in court that day, he didn't let the matter rest there.

First Jeffrey quotes the account by the NYT's Adam Liptak:
Justice Antonin Scalia noted that [the lawyer in question] had graduated from Yale Law School, which is, by some measures, the best in the nation. It is also Justice Thomas’s alma mater.

Justice Thomas leaned into his microphone, and in the midst of a great deal of cross talk among the justices, cracked a joke. Or so it seemed to people in the courtroom.
Then Jeffrey goes to the transcript, which he says is "ambiguous." However, "the gist . . . appears to be that graduation from Yale is a sign of incompetence." And he tells us, "If that's what Thomas said -- and I bet it was -- the wisecrack comes with a long history."
For many years, Thomas viewed Yale with undisguised hostility. The gist of his complaint was that he was admitted under an affirmative-action program -- and, as a result, suffered from a stigma that tainted his judicial career. "I couldn't get a job out of Yale Law School," he told an interviewer in 1998, "That's how much good it did me. I think I'll send the degree back." As I noted in "The Nine," Thomas had a "Yale Sucks" bumper sticker on the mantle in his chambers for a time.

Thomas and Yale repaired their relationship in recent years. In "The Oath," I reported that Thomas returned to Yale for the first time in decades in December, 2011, where he had congenial meetings with students and faculty. In fact, on the night of June 25, 2012, a few hours after the Court's decision on Obamacare was announced, Thomas met in Washington with a group of Yale Law School alumni. The rift appeared to be over.

But, as this latest remark showed, Thomas's anger at Yale is not gone. Thomas's supporters always protest when the Justice is described as angry and bitter and still resentful of his treatment during his confirmation hearings, almost twenty-two years ago. But Thomas's true feelings about his villains in that struggle -- including Yale, Democrats, and the news media -- always come out, as they did on Monday.
You have to wonder whether disdain for affirmative action has really been the bane of Justice Thomas's career, or whether it has played any significant role at all. Combine good old-fashioned racism, which of course the justice pooh-poohs, with a spectacularly revolting personality and you've got a package that could easily intimidate the strongest-stomached hiring apparatchik in the Big Law establishment.

I'm not sure what's supposed to be funny about the little witticism that apparently induced Justice Thomas to break his historic silence, about graduation from Yale being a sign of incompetence. It would be no wittier, but also no less witty, to suggest that graduation from Yale doesn't rule out incompetence, and I think we can all think, off the top of our heads, of a couple of contemporary cases in point drawn from the very highest ranks of our government.

Is it really necessary to point out how many vastly more capable and deserving lawyers have had vastly less rewarding careers than the vastly overfortunate Justice T?

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At 11:52 PM, Blogger John said...

I'm relieved to hear that the historic breaking of silence amounted to no more than judicial breaking of wind: it was only to attempt to make a joke and could not, in any way, be considered a comment on, of or with substantive legal content.

There are STILL constants in the universe!

John Puma

At 2:08 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

There you go, John! Justice T continues to reserve his unique legal brilliance for the privacy of chambers.

I imagine the justice will have his own Comedy Central special before long. Just think of a bunch of funnies like the Yale-graduates quip strung together.



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