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How Not to Criticize Clarence Thomas

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In Paul’s thread from yesterday, a commenter expresses a sentiment that I’ve encountered way too often among American liberals:

I didn’t realize Thomas could actually speak. I thought Scalia just stuck his hand up Thomas’ ass and worked his mouth like a ventriloquist dummy.

I’ve been addressing this misconception since the beginning days of this blog, is very, very wrong. Thomas is absolutely not and has never been a Scalia clone. As witless Chum puts it [lighlty edited]:

Whether the “Thomas is Scalia’s stupid puppet” argument from liberals is motivated by racism or not, it’s indistinguishable from what polite racists would say about him. Even worse, it’s just wrong. And worst of all, it credits Scalia as something other than a verbose exemplar of the classic stupid person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.

Right — the narrative is not only wrong in offensive way about Thomas, it buys into the Scalia myth. There are several respects in which Thomas’s jurisprudence is more distinctive and interesting, sometimes even in ways that liberals should approve of. (The right to a jury trial and not to incriminate oneself really are much more plausibly described as “privileges and immunities” of American citizenship than as “fundamental to the concept of ordered liberty.”) There are many, many highly critical things one can say about Clarence Thomas’s jurisprudence as well as his public political pronouncements, but this is really not the road any liberal should go down.

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