The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture bills itself as the definitive reflection of the African American experience. Every notable African American is recognized there, from Frederick Douglas to Barack Obama. Even the Black Panthers and Bill Cosby are recognized. One man, however, only gets a passing mention: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Many are claiming the slight against Thomas is due to one thing: his conservative views.
According to The Daily Signal, the marginalization of Thomas is even more egregious when one considers how the Museum treats Anita Hill:
Anita Hill, the woman who accused Thomas of sexual harassment, however, is given prominent billing in the museum.
The new Smithsonian, which opened in September, gives Hill pride of place in an exhibit on blacks in the 1990s. The exhibit features testimonies trumpeting her courage and the surge of women’s activism that ensued, while making only peripheral reference to the nation’s second black Supreme Court justice.
There is no showcase of Thomas’ own life and career, which ran its own harsh gauntlet of racial discrimination.
The Hill ran a column defending Clarence Thomas’s place in African American history. It is nearly impossible to deny his contribution to American jurisprudence, regardless of his personal philosophy:
It’s probable that the museum curators had no room for Thomas because his conservative views make him an “Uncle Tom,” as if arriving at different conclusions from his peers makes him an unsuitable topic for public conversation.
Thomas has been derided by many liberals, including from the black community, as a puppet of Justice Scalia. (You would think this slur would be particularly offensive to the black leadership since the exact same charge was made against Justice Marshall, with Justice Brennan serving as his Justice Scalia). This has been shameful, and his body of work from his first day on the bench proves otherwise. Clarence Thomas has written the most opinions the past two terms (37 in 2014, 39 in 2015) —twice as many as any other justice. Justice Elena Kagan only wrote twelve in each of the past two years. Does anyone question her qualifications because she does not write more?
Tom Goldstein, a well-respected liberal Supreme Court lawyer and founder of the SCOTUS blog, has written: “No other member of the Court is so independent in his thinking . . . I disagree profoundly with Justice Thomas’s views on many questions, but if you believe that Supreme Court decision-making should be a contest of ideas rather than power, so that the measure of a Justice’s greatness is his contribution of new and thoughtful perspectives that enlarge the debate, then Justice Thomas is now our greatest Justice.”
The Museum refuses to comment on the oversight, deliberate or not. For now, Clarence Thomas remains a footnote in African American history. At least to some.