Reading the NYT, I Begin to Sympathize with Clarence Thomas

Twenty-five years ago, Barack Obama was elected president of the Harvard Law Review. He was the first African American ever to head the journal. It was a big deal. The New York Times ran a story. Here’s an excerpt:

Mr. Obama was elected after a meeting of the review’s 80 editors that convened Sunday and lasted until early this morning, a participant said.

Until the 1970’s the editors were picked on the basis of grades, and the president of the Law Review was the student with the highest academic rank. Among these were Elliot L. Richardson, the former Attorney General, and Irwin Griswold, a dean of the Harvard Law School and Solicitor General under Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon.

That system came under attack in the 1970’s and was replaced by a program in which about half the editors are chosen for their grades and the other half are chosen by fellow students after a special writing competition. The new system, disputed when it began, was meant to help insure that minority students became editors of The Law Review.

Harvard, like a number of other top law schools, no longer ranks its law students for any purpose including a guide to recruiters.

Mr. Obama succeeds Peter Yu, a first-generation Chinese-American, as president of The Law Review. After graduation, Mr. Yu plans to serve as a clerk for Chief Judge Patricia Wald on the of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Mr. Yu said Mr. Obama’s election ”was a choice on the merits, but others may read something into it.”

Notice how the Times takes up and then dances with, and with, and with, the question of Obama’s qualifications. It devotes six whole paragraphs to the topic. It just can’t let go of it. Not unlike how conservatives will later deal with Obama’s qualifications to be president of the United States. Much to the tut-tutting of the New York Times.

Reading this little dance of suggestion and innuendo, I begin to sympathize with how Clarence Thomas came to see affirmative action as little more than a game of liberal paternalism, of Lucy pulling away the football.


  1. Brett February 8, 2015 at 9:21 pm | #

    That’s one thing I’ll give Clarence Thomas. He opposes affirmative action, but he doesn’t do it by denying or minimizing racism.

  2. Annie DiPiombo February 10, 2015 at 10:08 am | #

    How are ambitious and proud men not going to resent the implication that only preferential treatment got them where they are?

    In some big picture sense, this phenomenon (we didn’t need your help anyway!) is hopeful, it’s the next stage. Sort of the flip-side of the new “whites as oppressed minority” meme.

  3. John February 10, 2015 at 5:24 pm | #

    To quote Justice Holmes, it doesn’t bother men when the law review editors say I’m wrong, it bothers me when they say I’m right.

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