Tag Archives: Clarence Thomas

Biden deserves the high praise

A question came to me after my post about Vice President Joe Biden receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction today from President Barack Obama.

It came from a reader of this blog who asks, simply: “What were Vice President Biden’s accomplishments?” The reader recalled when Biden in 1991 chaired the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that decided whether to recommend Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. He called Biden a “duplicitous blowhard.”

My sense, though, that Biden brought a kind of maturity to Barack Obama’s inner circle. He brought decades — three decades’ worth — of Senate experience; moreover, he brought several years, before his election to the Senate in 1972, of public service in Delaware.

Was there a signature achievement? Did the vice president author a policy or a strategy that the president followed? Was Joe Biden singularly responsible for a public policy decision?

I don’t believe he was successful in an outwardly visible way that the public would recognize.

I’ll accept the president’s accolades as a testament to the guidance and wise — and private — counsel that the vice president gave him during the tough times.

The gentleman who asked the question likely knows all of this. He did ask it, though, and I believe it’s worth sharing a brief response here to others who read these musings.

I suspect a lot of Americans perhaps are wondering the same thing about what Joe Biden accomplished during his eight years as vice president. We might not see it with our own eyes, but the man with whom he served in the White House surely did.

That’s good enough for me.

Liberals should heed advice from one of their own


Nicholas Kristof makes no apologies for being a liberal thinker.

Nor should he. The New York Times columnist, though, offers a serious word of caution to his fellow liberals and progressives: If you mean what you say about demanding diversity in all aspects of contemporary life, then do not shut out those ideas with which you disagree.

Kristof’s essay in the Sunday New York Times echoes a recurring theme on which he has written before.

He chides universities and colleges for becoming echo chambers, for demonstrating unwillingness to hear thoughts expressed by those on the right, even the far right.

He says this about his fellow liberals: “We champion tolerance, except for conservatives and evangelical Christians. We want to be inclusive of people who don’t look like us — so long as they think like us.”

Ouch, man!

He’s correct. We see this played out on occasion when universities invite noted conservatives to speak on their campuses. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been victimized by outrage expressed by liberal faculty members and student body officers; so has Condoleezza Rice, the former national security adviser and secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration.

Even here in the Texas Panhandle, when one-time Bush presidential strategist Karl Rove was invited a few years ago to deliver a speech at a West Texas A&M University graduation event, you’d have thought WT had invited the spawn of Satan himself, based on some of the reaction.

Kristof has delivered a sound message for all his fellow liberals to heed. If you truly want diversity of thought and opinion, then open your own eyes, ears … and minds.

As Kristof writes: “It’s ineffably sad that today ‘that’s academic’ often means ‘that’s irrelevant.’ One step to correcting that is for us liberals to embrace the diversity we supposedly champion.”

Amen, brother.

If only the VP hadn’t said what he said …


Vice President Joe Biden delivered a stern message today to some university students and faculty members

about the obstruction occurring in the U.S. Senate.

It’s threatening the core of our republic, he said. Senate Republicans must not obstruct President Obama’s effort to fill a Supreme Court vacancy; they must allow nominee Merrick Garland to have a hearing, then they must debate the merits of his nomination and they must then vote on it.

True enough, Mr. Vice President.

But what about those remarks you made in 1992 about whether President George H.W. Bush should be able to nominate someone to the high court in an election year? Today’s Republicans are seeking to block Obama’s pick because this, too, is an election year and they want the next president to make the selection.

The GOP has beaten the vice president over his remarks then.

What they don’t say is that Biden also declared that he would support a “consensus candidate” in an election if one were to be presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Biden chaired at the time.

Biden told the Georgetown law students and faculty members: “Dysfunction and partisanship are bad enough on Capitol Hill. But we can’t let the Senate spread that dysfunction to another branch of government, to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

It’s fascinating to me that then-Sen. Biden’s remarks now have become known as the “Biden Rule,” which has never existed.

I won’t defend Biden for making his remarks in 1992. He was wrong to suggest that a sitting president shouldn’t be allowed to perform his job if he had been given the chance to do so. President Bush did select a Supreme Court justice in 1991, when he nominated Clarence Thomas to take the seat vacated by the death of Thurgood Marshall.

However, I won’t condemn Biden for holding that view. He did, after all, add the caveat that he would support a consensus candidate for the Supreme Court.

The here and now stands on its own.

The vice president is correct to insist that today’s Senate should stop its obstruction and allow the president to fulfill his constitutional duty — and do its own duty to give an eminently qualified nominee the fair hearing he deserves.


Act on the president’s court nominee


I remain strongly in support of presidential prerogative.

It’s been one of my core beliefs ever since I started thinking seriously about policy, politics and government.

When I read stories over the past few days about how Senate Republicans plan to block President Obama’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court — before even knowing who it is — it sends me into deep orbit.

The GOP is digging in. So is the White House.

In my view, the president’s constitutional authority should override the Senate’s role in this decision.

I’ll reiterate here something I hope hasn’t been lost on those who read this blog. My belief in presidential prerogative crosses party lines. This isn’t a partisan issue with me.

In 1991, Republican President George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the high court to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall. I stood behind the president on that pick while working for a newspaper in Beaumont. Did the president overstate Thomas’s qualifications for the court by calling the “most qualified man” he could find? Yes, he did.

But that was his call to make. George H.W. Bush was our president, who had been elected decisively in 1988. He earned the right to select someone with whom he felt comfortable. As for the allegations of sexual harassment that arose late in the confirmation process, well, I didn’t buy entirely into what was being alleged.

Four years earlier, President Ronald Reagan selected Robert Bork to the court. Was he the kind of jurist I would have picked? Heavens no! But that wasn’t my call to make. It belonged to the president. The Senate saw it differently and rejected Bork’s nomination to the court — despite Bork’s well-known brilliance and knowledge of constitutional law — on grounds that he would fundamentally reshape the direction of the Constitution.

The process worked as it was intended, even though I believed then as well in the principle of presidential prerogative.

Barack Obama is equally entitled — just as any of his predecessors have been — to put someone forward to sit on the nation’s highest judicial authority. The death of conservative icon Antonin Scalia has shocked us all. The court won’t stop functioning with only eight justices.

The larger problem, though, might lie in the Senate, where Democrats are vowing revenge if Republicans follow through with their threat to block the president’s court nominee from even getting a hearing.

The Senate could shut down. Government could stop. The upper congressional chamber could become a logjam of legislation approved by the House, which cannot become law over a dispute that Senate Republicans will have started.

For what purpose? To deny the president of the “other party” a chance to fulfill his constitutional duty, to which a majority of Americans entrusted to him twice with their votes.

Republicans want to wait for the next president to take office. They are gambling that the 45th president will be one of their own. It’s a risky gamble, though, that threatens to stymie everything else that their own constituents elected them to do — which is to govern.

Debate produces a memorable sound bite

Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont,, left, and Hillary Rodham Clinton laugh during the CNN Democratic presidential debate, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Hillary Clinton can take ownership now of perhaps the second of three memorable sound bites that have stuck with some us over many years.

Last night the Democratic presidential candidate referred to the attacks leveled against her by primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders as an “artful smear.”

Bingo, Madame Secretary.

That will go down in history right along with another one of her gems, when she referred to the “vast right-wing conspiracy” that concocted the sex-related scandals that enveloped her husband during his time as president of the United States.

The third memorable sound bite comes from a federal judge who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to join the U.S. Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas famously referred during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing to allegations of sexual harassment as a “high-tech lynching.”

There you have it. There well could be more, but those jump out at me.

Those, in my mind, are the Big Three of sound bites relating to scandals and/or controversies.

The debate between Clinton and Sanders, though, did prove edifying, educational and at times entertaining.

It also was memorable now for what is certain to become a sound bite that will live forever.




Let’s just call him ‘Silent Clarence’


I actually thought it had been longer than a mere decade since Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had asked a question during oral arguments before the nation’s highest court.

Nope. It’s only been 10 years.

The New York Times article attached here spells out what Justice Thomas has settled on as his reason for remaining silent.

It’s discourteous, he told the Times.

Discourteous? You mean if a lawyer says something that you believe needs clarification, but none of your court colleagues wants to seek some clarity, that you don’t want to be rude by asking the lawyer a question?

I don’t quite get that.

On second thought, it makes no sense at all.

Justice Thomas was President George H.W. Bush’s pick in 1991 to serve on the court. He succeeded perhaps one of the most argumentative men ever to serve there, the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, who earned his Supreme Court spurs by arguing successfully before the court on the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended desegregation in public schools.

President Lyndon Johnson made history by appointing Marshall to the court in 1967, making him the first African-American to serve there.

Justice Thomas is a decidedly different type of high court jurist, both in judicial philosophy and temperament, apparently, than the man he succeeded.

I believe President Bush offered a serious overestimation of Clarence Thomas when he called him the “most qualified man” to sit on the high court.

That said, Thomas has been true to his conservative principles over the past quarter century.

As for the next time he asks a question of a lawyer, you can be sure the media will make a big deal of it.


Will these justices stay away from SOTU?


Do you ever hear something from someone and think, “Damn! I wish I’d have thought of that”?

That happened to me today.

One of my Facebook pals wondered out loud if the only mystery surrounding President Obama’s upcoming State of the Union speech would be whether the three most conservative members of the Supreme Court would stay away, as they have done in recent years.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia all have been absent during Obama’s recent speeches before a joint session of Congress.

I’ve long wondered — as have others –whether it is because they detest the president’s politics so much that they’d rather do something else than sit in front of him while he makes policy statement with which they disagree?

Look, gentlemen, this is the last one of these speeches Barack Obama will give as president of the United States. Surely you can find the time — not to mention the courtesy — to attend this speech along with the rest of your colleagues. Chief Justice John Roberts usually attends, and he’s in the conservative camp right along with the three no-show justices.

It might have been a single event that ticked them off. That would be the time that Obama scolded the court for its Citizens United ruling that took the limits off of corporations and enabled them to give unlimited amounts of money to political candidates. Justice Alito was seen mouthing the words “not true” when the president made his critical comments.

That was then. If the scolding is the reason, well, get over it, will you?

The president is entering his final full year in office. The Joint Chiefs of Staff will be there. Most of the Cabinet will be there; custom calls for one of them to stay away in case something catastrophic happens at the nation’s Capitol Building.

I hope all nine justices see fit to make an appearance. They don’t have to applaud. Just be there.


Justices vent their anger, show their fangs

What? Do you mean to say that the U.S. Supreme Court justices are human beings, with actual tempers?

I guess so, if the story attached to this post is any indicator.


The two huge rulings this week — affirming the Affordable Care Act and legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states — reportedly has revealed a growing schism between the two wings of the court.

Conservative justices don’t like the liberal tilt the court showed in the two rulings.

And at least one of them, Justice Antonin Scalia, said as much in his dissenting opinions.

Scalia and fellow Justice Samuel Alito appear to be angriest at Justice Anthony Kennedy, who joined the liberal justices on both rulings. Kennedy was picked for the court by a conservative president, Ronald Reagan, as was Scalia; Alito was picked by President George W. Bush.

I happen to believe that Scalia and Alito need to settle down. It seems a stretch for me to believe that a high court headed by yet another Bush selection, Chief Justice John Roberts, is going to become a bastion of liberal constitutional interpretation.

OK, so the liberals won two gigantic victories. Obamacare stands and gay marriage is now legal.

There will be plenty of other fights along the way.

What’s more, the fact that Scalia wrote such scathing dissents shouldn’t surprise anyone. He’s known for using colorful language and is fearless in stating his case.

As for the court’s fifth conservative justice, Clarence Thomas, well … he’s always silent during oral arguments before the court. The day Justice Thomas erupts in a fit of rage might be cause for concern.

Court says Texas can ban Confederate flag

Did hell freeze over when I wasn’t paying enough attention to what was happening down below?

I’m trying to figure out what happened today at the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that Texas indeed can prohibit people from displaying the Confederate flag on their motor vehicle license plates.

What’s more, one of the court’s more rigid conservatives, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined the majority in upholding the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles policy allowing the ban.


Great day in the morning!

The court has ruled correctly.

The Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans had brought the case to court after the DMV denied its request, with the backing of then-Gov. Rick Perry. The group contended it was a “free speech” issue, that it was allowed by the Constitution to make its statement of pride in the Confederacy.

Other Texans, though, objected mightily. Imagine that. The Confederate States of America seceded from the United States of America in 1861, declared war on the Union, launched the Civil War that killed 600,000 Americans. And why?

Because those states wanted the right to allow their residents to own slaves.

The Confederate flag in question has become a symbol for hate groups ever since. Go to a Klan rally and you’ll see the flag flying.

That is what drew the objection.

Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the opinion, said issuance of specialty plates is a form of “government speech,” not individual speech. Thus, government reserves the right to reject requests such as the one that came from the Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans.

So, the state will get to keep making decisions on how folk can adorn their motor vehicle license plates. And if the DMV deems a particular symbol to be hateful in the eyes of Texans, then it won’t be found on our public streets and highways.


Conservatives show quick trigger fingers

You have to hand it to conservative political leaders, who demonstrate time and again how quick they are to seize an initiative and outflank their liberal foes.

Take the call by religious leaders for liberal U.S. Supreme Court justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to recuse themselves from an upcoming hearing on same-sex marriage.


They contend that Kagan and Ginsburg have put their personal views on the subject above the U.S. Constitution and thus have surrendered their moral authority to decide on this issue.

Is there a more impractical demand than this?

It wouldn’t fly any more than some liberal political interest — say, the American Civil Liberties Union — demanding that conservative justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas recuse themselves because of their often-stated bias against same-sex marriage.

The court is going to hear a case, Obergefell v. Hodges, involving same-sex marriage bans in four states — Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky. The justices might rule that states cannot supersede the U.S. Constitution that guarantees citizens the right to equal protection under the law; or, they might rule that states have that authority.

It should be decided, quite naturally, by the full court comprising liberals, conservatives and swing justices, such as Anthony Kennedy and, possibly, Chief Justice John Roberts.

Still, the hair-trigger response by faith leaders demanding the recusal by liberal justices offers a lesson in how to make a quick-strike political demand.

They’ve honed the strategy almost to an art form.