'Silent' Justice Outspoken on Affirmative Action

Besides the stigmatizing aspect that Thomas sees in affirmative action programs, he also worries about young children being thrust into programs and situations for which they are unprepared. Says Thomas, "So we'll expend huge amounts of energy over affirmative action, but very little over what's really happening in the classroom for the bulk of these kids." Thomas maintains children "don't need all these theories" and says "they need people to actually help them."

In the past, Thomas has gone after those who say that programs that are predominantly black might somehow be inferior.

In a recent Supreme Court opinion striking down voluntary public school district plans to assign children to schools based on race, Thomas writes that scholars have "differing opinions as to whether educational benefits arise from racial balancing."

As evidence, he cited a study done by George Mason University professor David J. Armor. Armor, who opposed the school district plans for race-based placement in the Supreme Court argument, says "actual achievement data, when corrected for the rate of poverty at the individual level, show that black students in majority black schools perform about the same as in integrated schools."

In a 1995 case regarding judicial desegregation remedies, Thomas wrote, "It never ceases to amaze me that the courts are so willing to assume that anything that is predominantly black must be inferior."

After detailing his painful struggles in life, Thomas wrote he doesn't want other children to have to suffer like he did. "You don't know what you're putting on these kids," he wrote. "You don't know how it is to have no money and no shoes or old boots and things like that. You don't know how it is not to be able to afford to go home when other kids are on spring break."

Dennis D. Parker, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Racial Justice Program, scoffs at the fact that Thomas, who benefited from affirmative action, "now appears to be closing the door for others to follow." Parker contends, "Affirmative action recognizes there are a lot of societal forces that act as a barrier to opportunity." He adds, "I do not buy the argument that people are being pushed into situations that they can't handle. Past history has shown affirmative action has been successful in terms of assisting the creation of a minority middle class."

Parker says that some critics are particularly hard on Clarence Thomas because, not only is he the only African American on the court but he took the seat of Thurgood Marshall, a civil rights pioneer who dedicated his life to the cause of equality. Parker says, "There is a sense there has been a loss."

But Thomas says he was able to sit down for "quite some time" with Justice Marshall before his death. Thomas says Marshall's "attitude was that it was up to me to do in my time what I have to do as he did in his time what he had to do."

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