Tag: Clarence Thomas

2019 In Writing

I did a lot of writing this year. This is a brief list of some of my favorites. My book, The Enigma of Clarence Thomas, came out. It got some pretty great reviews. You should buy it. I began writing for The New Yorker Online, which has been a joy. My first piece was on political converts, men and women who make the journey from one ideology to another, and why the move from left to right has mattered more, over the course of the last century, than the move from right to left. My second piece was on Eric Hobsbawm, a Communist and a historian, and how his failure at the first made possible his success at the second. […]

On C-SPAN tomorrow, a conversation between me and Jamelle Bouie on Clarence Thomas

If you missed my conversation with Jamelle Bouie at the New York Public Library about The Enigma of Clarence Thomas, not to worry: it will be aired tomorrow night, Saturday, October 12, at 9 pm (East Coast time) on C-SPAN. Also, if you want to see a conversation in person, I’ll be talking with Rebecca Traister about the book at the Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, on Thursday, October 24, at 7 pm. Really looking forward to that event. Doug Henwood interviewed me about the book on his show Behind the News. We talked about how Thomas’s views echo some of the arguments set out by Max Horkheimer in his famous 1936 essay “Authority and the Family,” and why it’s the […]

The Enigma of Clarence Thomas on sale today!

  The Enigma of Clarence Thomas goes on sale today, with the help of a rave review in this morning’s New York Times. In the Times, Jennifer Szalai writes: It’s a provocative thesis, but one of the marvels of Robin’s razor-sharp book is how carefully he marshals his evidence. He doesn’t have to resort to elaborate speculation or armchair psychologizing, relying instead on Thomas’s speeches, interviews and Supreme Court opinions. Just as jurists make ample use of the written record, Robin does the same. … The result is rigorous yet readable, frequently startling yet eminently persuasive. … It isn’t every day that reading about ideas can be both so gratifying and unsettling, and Robin’s incisive and superbly argued book has […]

Book Launch with Jamelle Bouie at the New York Public Library

I’m thrilled to announce the launch of my book, The Enigma of Clarence Thomas, at the New York Public Library. I’ll be in conversation with New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie. The launch will be on Monday, September 23, at 7 pm. It’ll be in the Berger Forum, on the second floor of the main branch of the library, at 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. Tickets are free, but they’re on a first come, first serve basis, so reserve them now. You can do so here. Hope to see all of you who can make it!

When you hear a familiar voice at the other end of the line…

About six weeks ago I got a call from a number in DC I didn’t recognize. I answered the phone warily, saying hello more as a question than a greeting. At the other end, I heard, “Professor Robin?” “Who’s this?” I asked. “It’s Nina Totenberg from NPR.” I started cracking up, almost uncontrollably, and finally said, hi, hi, of course, Nina Totenberg. She noted that I sounded “furtive.” I noted that I didn’t recognize the number. Anyway, we wound up having a lovely chat about Clarence Thomas. Totenberg is as warm and friendly and personable on the phone as she is on air. On Friday, a small bit of our conversation made it into the segment she did on Thomas in […]

How on God’s green earth did Clarence Thomas just write an opinion on race and jury trials that was well to the right (or was it?) of Brett Kavanaugh, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and even Neil Gorsuch?

In a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court today overturned the conviction of Curtis Flowers for murder; he had been on death row in Mississippi for 22 years. The Court held, in Flowers v. Mississippi, that the trial court had wrongly concluded that the prosecution’s decision to strike a potential juror, who is black, was not motivated by racial discrimination. Flowers, who is also black, has been tried six times for the same murder by the same prosecutor. There is a long record of the prosecutor striking potential jurors who are black. What’s interesting about the Court’s opinion is the line-up. Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the majority decision; he was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, both […]

What Thomas’s opinion about abortion today tells us about his jurisprudence as a whole

I’ve been getting a lot of queries about Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion in Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. Briefly, Thomas spends all but a few paragraphs of his twenty-page opinion outlining what he sees as the eugenicist dimensions of abortion and birth control. This, as many have noted, is a new turn in Thomas’s abortion jurisprudence. Thomas essentially argues here that abortion is the way that women select and de-select the kinds of children they’re going to have. What’s more, while much of the discussion on the right in this regard focuses on how considerations of the sex of the fetus or the presence of Down syndrome may influence the decision to have an abortion, Thomas focuses overwhelmingly […]

When the Senate was a goyisch old boys’ club

As I head into the home stretch of Clarence Thomas, I’m poring over the more than three-thousand-page transcript of Thomas’s Senate Confirmation hearings in 1991. One of the eeriest revelations from that reading is not how much the Senate in 1991 was an old boys’ club; that we already knew from Anita Hill. Nor is it how much the Senate in 1991 was a white old boys’ club; that we already knew from Thomas. No, what really comes out from the hearings is how much the Senate of 1991 was a goyisch, even WASP-y, old boys’ club. Some of the most uncomfortable moments of the hearings, for me as a Jew, is to see the subtle, almost invisible, ways in […]

Did Jill Abramson Plagiarize Ian Milhiser?

Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times, has an article in the current issue of New York making the case for the impeachment of Clarence Thomas. I don’t have any problems with the substance of the piece, though I don’t think Abramson breaks much new ground on the Thomas sexual harassment front or with respect to the fact that Thomas committed perjury in his Senate confirmation hearings. (Having co-authored, with Jane Mayer, the book on Thomas and Anita Hill, Abramson knows this case better than almost anyone.) My problem is that Abramson seems to have lifted, sometimes word-for-word, an extended passage from a October 2016 blog post by Ian Milhiser. Here is Milhiser: He [Clarence Thomas] joined the majority […]

Clarence Thomas’s Straussian Moment: The Question of Slavery and the Founding, and a question for my political theory and intellectual history friends

A question for the political theorists, intellectual historians, and maybe public law/con law experts. The question comes at the very end of this post. Forgive the build-up. And the potted history: I’m writing fast because I’m hard at work on this Clarence Thomas book and am briefly interrupting that work in order to get a reading list. In the second half of the 1980s, Clarence Thomas is being groomed for a position on the Supreme Court, or senses that he’s being groomed. He’s the head of the EEOC in the Reagan Administration and decides to beef up on his reading in political theory, constitutional law, and American history. He hires two Straussians—Ken Masugi and John Marini—to his staff on the […]

Stokely Carmichael and Clarence Thomas

“This [the opposition to segregated schools] reinforces, among both black and white, the idea that ‘white’ is automatically superior and ‘black’ is by definition inferior.”   —Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton, Black Power   “This position [against segregation in schools] appears to rest upon the idea that any school that is black is inferior, and that blacks cannot succeed without the benefit of the company of whites.”   —Clarence Thomas, Missouri v. Jenkins

Was Bigger Thomas an Uptalker?

The funniest moment in Native Son (not a novel known for its comedy, I know): when the detective, Mr. Britten, is asking the housekeeper, Peggy, a bunch of questions about Bigger Thomas, to see if Thomas is in fact a Communist. Britten: When he talks, does he wave his hands around a lot, like he’s been around a lot of Jews? Peggy: I never noticed, Mr. Britten. … Britten: Now, listen, Peggy. Think and try to remember if his voice goes up when he talks, like Jews, when they talk. Know what I mean? You see, Peggy, I’m trying to find out if he’s been around Communists. Interesting side note: how much more terrified the white power structure in that novel […]

The Two Clarence Thomases

One of my contentions in the book on Clarence Thomas I’m writing is that while Thomas was championed during his Senate hearings as a man of the South—the Pin Point strategy, they called it—he is in fact very much a product of the North. Specifically, a North that gave lip service to racial equality, that deemed racism a southern problem, but that was either exploding with raw hatred and bigotry or hiding that racism beneath a veneer of liberal do-good-ism. Re-reading several books about Thomas’s time at Holy Cross, where he was an undergraduate in the late 1960s and early 1970s, you get a strong sense of this, not just from Thomas but also from his black classmates and close friends, men like Edward P. Jones, who would […]

Clarence Thomas: I was never a liberal, I was a radical

From an interview at Regent University: Interviewer: What’s a nice person like you doing being a conservative? How did that happen? You, like I, started out to the left. Thomas: I was truly on the left. Interviewer: How far left were you? Thomas: Well, there was no body on the other side of me. Let’s just put it this way. I thought George McGovern was a conservative. … Interviewer: How did you go from a McGovern liberal to … Thomas: I was never a liberal. Interviewer: What were you? Thomas: I was a radical.

From God’s Lips to Clarence Thomas’s Ears

Exodus 4: And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue….And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well….Thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee v. Federal Election Commission […]

When Advertising is Action: Clarence Thomas Channels Hannah Arendt and Friedrich von Hayek

In Lorillard Tobacco Company v. Reilly, the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts ban on tobacco advertising on First Amendment grounds. In his concurring opinion, Clarence Thomas writes: The State misunderstand the purpose of advertising. Promoting a product that is not yet pervasively used (or a cause that is not yet widely supported) is a primary purpose of advertising. Tobacco advertisements would be no more misleading for suggesting pervasive use of tobacco products than are any other advertisements that attempt to expand a market for a product, or to rally support for a political movement. Any inference from the advertisements that business would like for tobacco use to be pervasive is entirely reasonable, and advertising that gives rise to that inference […]

Upcoming Talks on Hannah Arendt and Clarence Thomas

I remember reading once, somewhere, that when Amos Oz was a child, it took his neurotic parents six months to prepare for a trip to the pharmacy, so taxed were they by the idea of an outing. I feel like I’ve become those parents. Even so, I seem to be taking three trips in the coming ten days to give three talks. If you’re around at any of these places, stop by and say hello. On Friday, April 8, at 3:30 pm, I’ll be delivering the Somers Lecture at Georgia State University. The topic is “White State, Black Market: What Clarence Thomas Sees in Capitalism.” Location is 25 Park Place, Room 2150, in Atlanta. On Tuesday, April 12, at 12:15, […]

Chickens Come Home to Roost, Palin-Style

Sarah Palin’s son Track, who’s a veteran, has been arrested for allegedly punching his girlfriend. The former vice presidential candidate had this to say: “My son, like so many others, they come back a bit different, they come back hardened,” she said. “They come back wondering if there is that respect for what it is that their fellow soldiers and airman and every other member of the military so sacrificially have given to this country,” she added. “And that starts from the top.” “That comes from our own president,” she elaborated, “where they have to look at him and wonder, ‘Do you know what we go through? Do you know what we’re trying to do to secure America?’” “So when […]

When White Men Complain…

Clarence Thomas: Most significantly, there is the backlash against affirmative action by “angry white men.” I do not question a person’s belief that affirmative action is unjust because it judges people based on their sex or the color of their skin. But something far more insidious is afoot. For some white men, preoccupation with oppression has become the defining feature of their existence. They have fallen prey to the very aspects of the modern ideology of victimology that they deplore. —”Victims and Heroes in the ‘Benevolent State,’” Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 19 (Spring 1996)