Friday, April 6, 2012

Mack on The Roots of Clarence Thomas' Black Burden

Ken Mack, Harvard Law School, has an essay, The Roots of Clarence Thomas' Black Burden, at The Root.  He writes in part:
William Hastie/photo credit
Most black Americans remain strong supporters of President Obama, as well as of affirmative action in higher education. Yet Thomas, in his own way, embraces the role of representative of his race that his fellow black Americans have thrust upon him. He has embellished his judicial opinions with citations from historical black thinkers such as Frederick Douglass and has publicly confessed that it is black criticism that perhaps wounds him most deeply. The dynamics that gave rise to Thomas' particular dilemma were set in motion 50 years ago this spring, when the first black justice seemed poised to join the court.

In the spring of 1962, it seemed to perceptive insiders that the first African American to join the court might be federal Court of Appeals Judge William H. Hastie. For President John F. Kennedy and his brother Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the impeccably credentialed Hastie seemed like the obvious front-runner for the spot made vacant by Justice Charles Whittaker's decision to retire. Black voters had been a key element in Kennedy's razor-thin margin of victory in the 1960 presidential election. With the civil rights movement in full swing, both Kennedy brothers recognized that nothing would send a stronger message that blacks were represented in government than an African-American Supreme Court appointment.

Robert Kennedy believed that such a nomination would burnish the administration's democratic credentials around the world. An African-American nominee was bound to be controversial, but in Hastie's case, one additional problem seemed especially pressing. He did not seem black enough.
Continue reading here.  And look for a post soon on Ken's new book!