Clarence the Cruel’s Reign of Error

Thomas mopes thinking about the prisoners that got away from him.

“I don’t think that he was a strong enough jurist and legal thinker at the time to be elevated to that position.’  ~ Barack Obama on Clarence Thomas

Long before he bumped Uncle Thomas from his perch as the Most Powerful Black Man in America, Barack Obama taught Constitutional law at Harvard.   This put him in a position where he could make an informed judgment as to what makes someone “the right stuff” to sit on the Supreme Court.

The skimpy qualifications, the shaky jurisprudence, and the dubious legal philosophy of Uncle Thomas are bad enough, but add his predisposition to actively stake out the most intemperate, extreme and even deliberately sadistic positions, particularly when minority prisoners are involved and Thomas earns the title of “Clarence the Cruel” as columnist Derrick Z. Jackson dubbed him in 2003.

In an 8-1 ruling, the court found that state and federal courts ignored evidence that prosecutors used peremptory strikes to eliminate 10 of 11 potential black jurors in a death penalty case involving a black defendant. Their finding will allow Thomas Miller-El, convicted in 1986 of killing a hotel clerk in a robbery, another chance to challenge his sentence in federal appeals court.

In writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy cited the fact that prosecutors used their peremptory strikes so sweepingly for black jurors while using them for only four of 31 nonblack jurors. Kennedy noted the fact that black jurors were grilled in much more graphic ways than nonblack jurors about the proposed execution of Miller-El. Prosecutors also suspiciously used a ”jury shuffle” to remove potential black jurors from the front seats of the pool.

”Happenstance is unlikely to produce this disparity,” Kennedy wrote.

Kennedy found relevant the sordid history of Dallas County, which had a reputation for excluding African-Americans from juries. The reputation is encapsulated in a 1963 circular from the district attorney’s office that told prosecutors, ”Do not take Jews, Negroes, Dagos, Mexicans, or a member of any minority race on a jury, no matter how rich or how educated.”

Kennedy said there was evidence that such practices lingered into the 1980s, at the time of Miller-El’s trial. ”The culture of the district attorney’s office in the past was suffused with bias against African-Americans in jury selection,” Kennedy wrote. He added, ”Even if we presume at this stage that the prosecutors in Miller-El’s case were not part of this culture of discrimination, the evidence suggests they were likely not ignorant of it. Both prosecutors joined the district attorney’s office when assistant district attorneys received formal training in excluding minorities from juries.”

The evidence was enough for even the highly conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia to go along with the majority. But Thomas dissented. Despite all of Kennedy’s citations, Thomas said Miller-El’s case rested only on ”circumstantial evidence and speculation.” Thomas wrote that Miller-El ”has not shown by clear and convincing evidence that any peremptory strikes of black veniremen were exercised because of race.”

Back in 1992, just after joining the court, Thomas dissented in the 7-2 decision that upheld a $800 award for damages for a Louisiana inmate who, from behind his locked cell, argued with a prison guard. Three guards took the inmate out of his cell, put him in handcuffs and shackles, and dragged him to a hallway where they beat him so badly that he suffered a cracked dental plate.

The lower court ruled that the beating had nothing to do with acceptable prison discipline. But Thomas all but laughed off the beating, saying the injuries were ”minor.” Thomas said the ”use of force that causes only insignificant harm to a prisoner may be immoral, it may be tortious, it may be criminal, and it may even be remediable under other provisions of the Federal Constitution, but it is not `cruel and unusual punishment.”’

Last year Thomas was one of three dissenters, with Rehnquist and Scalia, in the 6-3 decision that found that executing the mentally retarded was ”cruel and unusual punishment.” Also last year, Thomas dissented from a 6-3 decision to ban the practice in Alabama of chaining prisoners to outdoor ”hitching posts” and abandoning them for hours without food, water, or a chance to use the bathroom. While the majority also called that ”cruel and unusual,” Thomas said the hitching post served ”a legitimate penological purpose,” encouraging a prisoner’s ”compliance with prison rules while out on work duty.”

No justice for Black inmates from the Court’s only Black justice.

Thomas dismisses any suggestion of bias playing a part in excluding Blacks from a jury pool even when Antonin Scalia agrees it is present as he did in a separate 2005 case.

The question in Johnson v. California, No. 04-6964, was how much evidence of possible discrimination must be presented to invoke the Batson decision’s requirement of a race-neutral explanation.

The California Supreme Court had required evidence that discrimination was “more likely than not” the reason for the peremptory strike. But Justice Stevens, writing for the 8-to-1 majority on Monday, said that this standard was too onerous. It was sufficient to have “an inference” of discrimination at this initial stage, he said.

Justice Thomas was the lone dissenter.

Thomas had been on the Court for a matter of months when he joined with Scalia in dissent on the founding fathers “simply did not conceive of the Eighth Amendment as protecting inmates from harsh treatment” and “The Eighth Amendment is not, and should not be turned into, a National Code of Prison Regulation.”

Let’s review: Uncle Thomas is fine when district attorneys use their power to strike all Blacks from a jury pool.  Uncle  Thomas is fine with guards beating a prisoner so severely it leaves him with a cracked dental place and blows off the injury as “minor.”

Uncle Thomas is fine with executing the mentally retarded.  Uncle Thomas is cool with chaining prisoners to “hitching posts” without food, water or even if they soil themselves.

Uncle Thomas has an expansive view of prisoners rights.  He doesn’t believe they have any.   His hostility towards the incarcerated continues to this day.   In January, the Court ruled 8-1 to overturn the murder conviction of Juan Smith because prosecutors had failed to disclose that Larry Boatner, the only eyewitness had informed authorities he could not identify the killer.

Need I say the name of the “justice” who was the Lone Ranger with no problem that the prosecutor had withheld evidence?

In 1995, intruders attacked a home in New Orleans in search of money and drugs.  They shot and killed five people in the home invasion.  Boatner said the assailants were Black, but never saw their faces.

“We have observed that evidence impeaching an eyewitness may not be material if the state’s other evidence is strong enough to sustain confidence in the verdict,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. “That is not the case here.”

Roberts wrote a four-page opinion, but Thomas furiously retaliated with a 19-page dissent,  “Much of the record evidence confirms that, from the night of the murders through trial, Boatner consistently described — with one understandable exception — the first perpetrator through the door, that Boatner’s description matched Smith,” Thomas wrote.

“The question presented here is not whether a prudent prosecutor should have disclosed the information that Smith identifies.”

Thomas was unsuccessful in swaying a majority of his Court colleagues of Smith’s guilt, but in 2011, he persuaded them to join him in denying financial restitution to a prisoner who had been wrongly convicted and incarcerated on Death Row for 14 years.

Thompson was weeks away from his scheduled execution when a private investigator discovered a blood test that prosecutors knew of, but hid from Thompson’s attorneys.   They also learned of eyewitness reports that didn’t match Thompson’s description.    In 1999, Thompson was acquitted and the jury awarded him $14 million in damages–a million for each year he spent in prison.

Thompson’s attorneys found out the evidence that could have set him free was known by at least four prosecutors, but Thomas, writing for the 5-4 majority said Thompson’s case was a “single incident” and there was no misconduct.

Wrongly convicted, condemned to die, and the Court’s conservatives say, “tough.”

The prosecutor in Thompson’s case was Harry Connick Sr. (father of the famous singer) and the Court’s conservatives bent over backwards to shield his decision to withhold evidence that would have set a wrongly incarcerated man free.  Thomas wrote:    The role of a prosecutor is to see that justice is done. “It is as much [a prosecutor’s] duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.” By their own admission, the prosecutors who tried Thompson’s armed robbery case failed to carry out that responsibility. But the only issue before us is whether Connick, as the policymaker for the district attorney’s office, was deliberately indifferent to the need to train the attorneys under his authority.

Uncle Thomas has slammed shut the doors of the Supreme Court in the faces of every falsely convicted inmate and given the green light to unscrupulous prosecutors to subvert the law in order to obtain a conviction.

Black America Web columnist Tonyaa Weathersbee could only shake her head at the casual cruelty of Uncle Thomas.

Maybe John Thompson reminded Clarence Thomas of a childhood nemesis.

Maybe Thompson, who spent 14 years on Louisiana’s Death Row when prosecutors deliberately withheld evidence that would have proved his innocence, reminded the Supreme Court justice of one of the bullies who taunted him about his coal-black skin.

Or maybe, at least in Thomas’ eyes, Thompson quickly morphed into a black man who was looking for a handout instead of justice.

Thomas resents the way he was treated by what he considers “liberal Black elites.” He doesn’t like it that people believed Anita Hill and not him. He feels he was treated poorly by other Blacks for being “too dark” and “ethnic” in his appearance. He really resents the expectation that because he replaced a legendary figure in Marshall, he has to follow in his footsteps.

All that anger, all that bitterness and all that scorn Thomas believed he had to take, he’s giving back in spades.

Uncle Thomas is full of resentment and he’s not leaving the Court until he’s settled all scores and grudges, real or imagined.

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One thought on “Clarence the Cruel’s Reign of Error

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