Monday, February 3, 2014

Decadence at Yale: Justice Thomas

For the first time since 2006, Justice Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Supreme Court spoke during oral argument on January 14, 2013. Even though a quip made by Justice Scalia prompted the stealth Justice to reply, the content is nonetheless quite revealing concerning Justice Thomas's quite understandable attitude concerning Yale Law School, one of his alma maters.

The case before the court concerned a defendant from Louisiana seeking to have his murder conviction overturned. The case involved the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. Backing Louisiana’s position that the defendant had received an adequate defense, Justice Scalia sought to extol the qualifications of the defendant’s lawyers; the Council of Louisiana had cited Yale Law School as "evidence" of the high competence of at least one of the defendant's lawyers. At that point, several people present in the room heard Justice Thomas remark, “Well, he did not have competent council, then.” Thomas was not entirely joking.
                                                                       Image source:
Trying to account for Thomas's rare breach of his long-kept silence on the bench, the Wall Street Journal points to Yale’s emphasis on affirmative action as having embarrassed Clarence Thomas as a law student benefiting from the program in the 1970s. In his memoir, My Grandfather’s Son, Thomas writes  of his fear back then that other students might assume he had been admitted because he is black rather than because of any of his personal accomplishments. “As a symbol of my disillusionment," he wrote in his memoir, "I peeled a 15-cent sticker off a package of cigars and stuck it on the frame of my law degree to remind myself of the mistake I’d made by going to Yale. . . . I never did change my mind about its value.” Add in the fact that he would store his Yale diploma in his basement instead of displaying it in his chambers, and his castigation of his diploma's value suddenly looks like more than just opposition to affirmative action.

Although not a law student at Yale, I did take and sit in on some law classes on account of the amount of historical political and economic thought in them. Being a Midwesterner, I was not used to the intensity of passive aggression (not to mention raw anger) especially in the law school when it came to enforcing "political correctness." Had Thomas even sneezed any contempt for affirmative action, the "sharks" would have been at him in an instant. I made a comment in a class one time in support of Scalia and Thomas on federalism only to find that a feminist law student had "retaliated" against me by telling an academic administrator that I had tripped her. The administrator, who had a law degree and thus had surely taken evidence, apparently did not need any. As a white male, I must have tripped the black female. Thank God I was not a law student at Yale! Even so, my diploma is in storage.


Jess Bravin, “Seven-Year Itch: Thomas Breaks Silence,” The Wall Street Journal, January 14, 2013.