Farrakhan and Clarence Thomas
Jude Wanniski
March 20, 2001

 

Memo To: Min. Louis Farrakhan, Nation of Islam
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Your Saviorís Day Lecture

Thanks to Brother Leonard, I got the tapes on Friday of your Saviorís Day lecture and had the pleasure of listening to them over the weekend. To tell you the truth, Min. Farrakhan, Iíd been worried that you may not have been recovering from your surgery as well as you might, but you were in fine form. I see Jesse Jackson visited with you the night before and pleaded with you to take it easy, give a quick talk, and save your energy. Leonard told me you had promised your family you would try to hold your talk to 30 minutes, but there was no holding you back. The 2 hours, 30 minutes that you spoke was evidence enough that you are brimming with good health, and the spirit and energy of God.

I have to tell you, though, that I found myself in complete disagreement with you on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a man I thoroughly admire. In fact, of the three black men in the United States I most admire, I would put you and Justice Thomas tied for first at the top of my list, with Secretary of State Colin Powell third. In the five years weíve known each other, Min. Farrakhan, Iíd never before heard you speak so disrespectfully of Justice Thomas, for the first time questioning his motives and his commitment to justice. As usual, though, you are expressing the thoughts of the black community at its center of gravity, and there is a sense that Justice Thomas was the decisive fifth vote when the Supreme Court essentially ruled in favor of George W. Bush over Al Gore in the legal wrangling over the Electoral College. You also raised Justice Thomasís vote in a Texas case where a black American was executed and would not have been if not for that vote. You seemed to be saying he was not coming through for black folks.

You know, Min. Farrakhan, that I do not allow anyone to do my thinking on the most important issues facing our government, which is why my due diligence led me to conclude that you are a good man, even a holy man, who is not anti-Semitic or bigoted in the slightest. Iíve never heard you preach hate, although I have heard you angrily express frustration with the condition of black men and women and black families in our United States today -- and I have agreed with you. Let me say, though, that I spent countless hours studying the case Anita Hill made against Clarence Thomas and concluded that there was no possibility she was telling the truth. None. Now I also have spent considerable time in the years since, watching Justice Thomas at his work at the Supreme Court of the United States, and I can tell you that he comes as close to absolute intellectual integrity as I have ever seen. Iíve only met him once and communicated with him a few times by telephone and e-mail, so I cannot say we are friends. He practically insists he will not have political friends. I am proud of him because he will not shave his opinions to please anyone, except his pure understanding of the Constitution and the law.

In my younger days as a Washington reporter, I covered the Supreme Court back when conservatives complained that the Court paid no attention to the Constitution and simply voted their gut feelings about where they thought decisions should go. I would have personal agreements and disagreements with those decisions, but I was never angry at the Court for the way decisions emerged. There is a need for rigidity and a need for flexibility, in families, in political parties, in the government, and in the nation at large. When Thurgood Marshall was on the Supreme Court, I admired him for his flexibility, but also worried that his bending of the Constitution to bring relief to black Americans would have a cost if it should go too far. With Justice Thomas, I find a rigidity that I believe is long overdue in the black community, one that you yourself brought to the surface with your Million Man March in October 1995. There is good and there is evil, and while we can argue at the margins, you always have been reluctant to get far from Scripture.

Justice Thomas may well have wanted to vote in the minority in the Texas case, which would have meant a majority for clemency. Iím afraid your Saviorís Day lecture left the impression that he voted as he did because of a white mastery that wants to execute black men. You may not have wanted to leave that impression, but Iím afraid that is the way it came across. You seemed to be saying he is cheating on his conscience, when there is nobody I see in the African-American community who cheats less on his conscience than he, or you. The Supreme Court is not the place where you should look for compassion, Min. Farrakhan. Thatís why the Constitution gives the President the right to clemency. If the black community had a beef with the sentencing of a black man in Texas -- who was convicted by a jury of his peers and sentenced to death according to the laws and procedures of the state of Texas -- it should have gone to President Bill Clinton in Washington or Governor George W. Bush in Texas. To expect Justice Thomas to get emotionally involved and vote against his understanding of the Constitution and the Law was something you were hearing from black folks, but he had to live by his commitment to intellectual integrity.

In the same way, you clearly argued in your Saviorís Day lecture that if Justice Thomas would have voted as a black man, he would have voted against the decision that led to the Bush presidency. The fact is, Min. Farrakhan, it was the minority judges on the Florida Supreme Court that had tears in their eyes and compassion in their hearts when they decided to absolutely change the election rules after the vote in a way that might have made Al Gore the President. The Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Charles T. Wells, who had cast a vote in that direction early in the proceedings, reversed himself when the facts of the case became clear. So did a black judge on the Florida Supreme Court, Leander J. Shaw, Jr., whose intellectual integrity foreshadowed the Clarence Thomas vote. What I mean to say, Min. Farrakhan, is that if you were not struggling with your health, we might have been able to discuss these issues as they unfolded, and you could have come to the same conclusion as I -- that Justice Thomas acted bravely, not cowardly, in his vote. The black community must, must, must not look to the Supreme Court for legislative relief from the afflictions that bedevil it. Thatís what the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch are supposed to be for. If Americaís black leaders cannot amass their considerable political power in a way that optimizes conditions for black Americans -- instead betting all their chips on one party and losing -- they should not expect Justice Thomas to bail them out. This was a message that I thought I would hear from you at Saviorís Day, but did not.