By ART CHANCE
United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas and I were born about a year and 100 miles apart in a rural Georgia that had ceased to exist by the time we were graduated from high school.
Justice Thomas was born into the kind of grinding poverty that only rural Southern blacks and Indians on reservations know. His father was a farm laborer and his mother a domestic worker, the status of most blacks in the rural South in those days. Unlike the majority of black men today, he did have the benefit of knowing who his father was, but the father left the family when Thomas was a small child.
His mother struggled to keep body and soul together and her children fed and ultimately gave up and turned Thomas and his brother over to her parents in Savannah, Ga., a very common occurrence with rural blacks. It was a bit of a twist on the usual pattern, in which it was usually the young folks who had gone to the city and then when they had troubles sent the kids to the old folks back at the “home place” in the country. There is a meme floating around that goes something like “If you raise your kids, you get to enjoy your grandkids. If you spoil your kids, you get to raise your grandkids.” That has been true for blacks for a long time, and now we’ve achieved equality.
Coastal Georgia produced indigo, rice, and the much-coveted “Sea Island” long-staple cotton. The environment was a disease-ridden fever swamp. The planters who owned the land lived far inland and left cultivation to slaves and a few overseers. There are the remains of a small town, Summertown, near my hometown, where the planters from the coastal and Savannah River lowlands kept their summer homes where they went to get away from the insects and disease.
The slaves in coastal Georgia and South Carolina were mostly of West African origin and they developed a unique language and culture called Gullah or Geechee. The first language for Justice Thomas was Gullah.
I’ve heard Gullah, and by my time it had morphed into something of a Creole English, and I could catch a word here and there but could neither speak it nor really understand it. My grandfather could speak a pidgin version of it from his days in the timber industry rafting logs to the coastal towns. Gullah is still spoken by maybe as many as 5,000 people in intracoastal South Carolina and Georgia.
I well know what it was like to try to “pass” in college and corporate America with an “upcountry” Southern accent. You can be a charming devil with the dulcet tones of a Shelby Foote tidewater Southern accent, but that upcountry twang of interior Georgia, the Carolinas, and Appalachia marks you as illiterate white trash. If you’re going to get a job that doesn’t involve the custodial closet or the grounds crew, you need to work on that accent.
I can’t imagine what it was like for Justice Thomas to embark into academia in the late 1960s with not just a black accent or a Southern accent, but a Gullah accent and a first language in that dialect. Thomas’ answer was to take his bachelor’s degree in English literature so he could “master the language.” He went on to take his J.D. from Yale Law and thread his way up the ladder in the Congress, the US Department of Justice, and ultimately the federal courts.
Thomas was clearly shortlisted for the Supreme Court, but he was passed over when President George H.W. Bush appointed David Souter. When Justice Thurgood Marshall’s seat came open, a black appointee was the obvious choice and Thomas was appointed.
All hell broke loose. Marshall was a Democrat and civil rights movement icon; he was the “first black almost everything” and had argued Brown v. The Board on behalf of the NAACP. Thomas was a Republican nominee and an open conservative, an apostate.
We’d already seen the first all-out Democrat attack on a Republican nominee to the United States Supreme Court, and it was so virulent that it produced its own verb; to “Bork” a nominee, named for Judge Robert Bork, who was savaged by Democrats. They brought it to a new level with Clarence Thomas’ confirmation and we saw the first performance of Democrat women for hire in confirmation hearings. The Democrat master of ceremonies was Sen. Joe Biden.
Unlike the Bork nomination, Thomas and the Bush Administration endured the slings and arrows and Thomas was narrowly confirmed to the high court. Since 1991 he has served as a solid and stolid conservative vote on the Court. He seemed content in Justice Antonin Scalia’s shadow, but with Scalia’s passing and changes in the court and the political scheme, he has taken a much more prominent role, and it has incensed the Left.
Thomas concurred in the majority opinion recently in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, reversing Roe vs. Wade and Casey vs. Planned Parenthood. Yet, in other writings Thomas has gone on to say that the court should go on to examine other decisions based on the notion of “substantive due process,” which was an underpinning of Roe going back to Griswold v. Connecticut, and Douglas’ notions of “penumbras” and “emanations” of rights from other parts of the Constitution. Most people with brains have long believed that Griswold and its progeny were on very shaky logical grounds.
Distinguishing cases and theories is a necessary skill in legal writing, and Justice Alito was very careful to distinguish his opinion in Dobbs from cases such as Griswold and other substantive due process cases regarding inter-racial marriage and same-sex marriage. For the last 70 years we have endured the left bypassing the processes of legislative democracy for the appeal to nine oligarchs in black robes.
Say what you will about Sen. Mitch McConnell, but he performed a great service for American democracy by blocking Merrick Garland’s ascension to the Supreme Court. Donald Trump undid 70 years of liberal activist judicial control of the Supreme Court with his appointments to the Court. Now all we have to do is hold on to at least enough of the Congress to stop the communists, excuse me, Democrats from doing anything like packing the Court with 30 wierdos.
Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon.