Justices Scalia and Thomas

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Will Baude at Crescat Sententia wonders why there's such a persistent myth that Clarence Thomas is a lapdog for Antonin Scalia and never expresses independent thought. Eugene Volokh has wondered about this before and also notices that these recent war on terror prisoner cases show about as strong a disagreement between the two as between any justices. Both wonder why this myth persists. Baude expresses his wonder at it even more strongly:

Usually, when a clearly-wrong belief persists like this one does, there is some sort of memetic explanation-- some reason that the belief is convenient, or that people who do not share it are unlikely to prosper, or some reason that the wrong belief has a particular advantage in replicating itself. But I can't think of any such explanation here.

Well, I can, and I would have thought it obvious.

The convenient belief is that black people don't arrive at conservative beliefs through independent thought. They must be doing it to get some benefit out of caving in to views that are anti-black just as the house slaves got benefit out of living with the slaveowners. They're viewed as race traitors, because there's no way a real black person would believe that affirmative action could be harmful to progress in race issues or to black people's well-being. Since he either doesn't really believe the stuff to begin with or he's really stupid to believe it, he needs someone else to tell him what to say or do. All this just follows from the standard line on racial politics.

This is all of a piece with the separatist mentality among black America. If you don't separate yourself from the mainstream in certain ways, you're not really black. I had a student who was considered not black enough because she's a swimmer. Another student of mine was considered not black enough because she likes to ski and because her family liked to read for pleasure rather than just to meet the bare minimum for their time in the white world (school, jobs, etc.). A third student told me that Colin Powell isn't really black, and this whole discussion on Condi Rice shows that many people won't allow one of the smartest people in the Bush Administration to be considered anything other than a house slave led around by a leash. So it's not surprising that people would say the same about Justice Thomas. It wouldn't fit with their whole worldview to see Thomas as anything other than a doofus who can't think for himself and needs Scalia to tell him what to do.

Update: The link to the Condi Rice discussion didn't get in there somehow. It's now there.

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Scalia v. Thomas from Slings And Arrows on June 29, 2004 1:18 PM

Jeremy the Parableman attacks the notion that Justice Thomas is nothing more than Justice Scalia's lapdog: Usually, when a clearly-wrong belief persists like this one does, there is some sort of memetic explanation-- some reason that the belief is conv... Read More


I'm surprised that anyone does not get what is behind the demeaning of Clarence Thomas. It should be noted that William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall frequently voted together, probably as much or more as Scalia and Thomas, and no one ever called Thurgood Marshall, Brennan's rubber stamp.

Actually, you're wrong. People did say that about Marshall and Brennan. See the link from this post for a scholar with no political axe to grind for Thomas and Scalia (she's a devoted liberal) mentioning exactly that.

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