There are no worse examples of a biased and tendentious mainstream media with ulterior motives than that of those who have castigated Associate Justice Clarence Thomas of the United States Supreme Court over the past half-year.
The latest screeching from the media stems from flyspecking Justice Thomas’s latest, amended financial disclosure reports, repeating what has never been disputed, and attempting to cast a dark shadow on otherwise innocent, normal conduct; that a man has affluent friends, and these friends engage in activities typical of those with wealth with their friends.
But apart from the shameless and intentional misinterpretation of this obvious reality, what is omitted truly speaks volumes. There are neither accusations nor even circumstantial evidence that out of the 700+ opinions he has written over his career, the 2,800+ cases he has voted on, and the millions of words he has authored have in any way been compromised to benefit his friends. Even the “bombshell” article from ProPublica, which detailed Thomas’s relationship with his friend Harlan Crow, hidden deep within the article’s body, couldn’t deny the fact that “Crow and his firm have not had a case before the Supreme Court since Thomas joined it.”
Throughout his tenure, neither the media nor any litigant who has appeared before Thomas has alleged that he shortchanged justice in any case for hidden motives. Yet, this ProPublica article, and its subsequent echoes, desperately attempts to construe a narrative that mere friendship with an affluent individual, and receiving treatment no different from that given to other friends, somehow signifies that Thomas harbors ulterior motives.
The arguments presented vacillate between being feeble and outright juvenile; even the cornerstone ProPublica piece only musters the claim that “the details of [Crow’s] discussions with Thomas over the years remain unknown, and it is unclear if Crow has influenced the Justice’s views.”
In essence, the exposé that was heralded as the revelation of Thomas’s alleged indiscretions ended with not a bang, but a pitiful whimper. Echoing former Vice President Walter Mondale’s sentiments, I’m compelled to ask, “Where’s the beef?”
If the mainstream media endorsed Thomas’s opinions, any whining over his financial disclosures would be muted or inaudible. When liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg openly and injudiciously assailed Donald Trump’s candidacy in 2016, describing him as a “faker” and criticizing both his “ego” and his decision not to release his tax returns, the mainstream media winced for a few seconds and moved on. Ginsburg remained in judicial Valhalla without even an adverse footnote, even though she didn’t recuse herself from numerous cases involving the Trump administration that came before the court.
We also cannot forget that Sonia Sotomayor failed to recuse herself from a case in which the publisher of her book was before the court. When this happened, there was nary a peep.
The obvious problems that can arise from these two cases warrant far more concern from watchdogs than Thomas’s case. After all, why should the liberal justices be held to a less-exacting standard than Thomas? Both take the same oath to support and defend the United States Constitution. Both are role models for the nation’s youth. Indeed, when the liberal bloc of the court had the majority, Ginsburg and Sotomayor were far more influential than Thomas, whose role was regularly relegated to writing pointed, unassailable, and devastating dissents that, unfortunately, had no precedential weight.
Of course, Justice Thomas is not above criticism. His judicial handiwork is fair game, just as that of every other justice. You can question his reasoning or adherence to precedents. As Chief Justice William Howard Taft instructed, “Nothing tends more to render judges careful in their decisions and anxiously solicitous to do exact justice than the consciousness that every act of theirs is to be subject to the intelligent scrutiny of their fellow men, and to their candid criticism…In the case of judges having a life tenure, indeed, their very independence makes the right freely to comment on their decisions of greater importance because it is the only practical and available instrument in the hands of a free people to keep such judges alive to the reasonable demands of those they serve.”
Journalists, of course, should be evenhanded in their analysis and critiquing of the opinions of all the justices. Clarence Thomas should not be singled out for special treatment, nor should any single ideological bloc of justices be. Journalists should call a spade a spade, no matter which justices’ opinions or actions they are analyzing. Supreme Court reporters should be trained in law to distinguish between the Constitution and partisan politics; they should avoid turning fleas into elephants and shrinking elephants into fleas.
The Supreme Court bears the profound responsibility of interpreting a document penned over 250 years ago by the most visionary minds of its era. Justice Thomas, having personally endured the deep scars of racism stemming from misinterpretations of this very text, embodies the gravity and significance of this responsibility.