Joe Scarborough: Clarence Thomas Not Black Enough

What should President Obama’s impending Supreme Court Justice be?  A thoughtful jurist?  A legal scholar with impeccable credentials?  An experienced, accomplished, wise legal expert to judge whether laws are Constitutional?Apparently, the most important thing to remember is that this justice should be a Hispanic woman.Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” was conducting pundit interviews this morning for analysis on Justice Souter’s newly announced retirement.  One such pundit was Tavis Smiley, and as a gentle segue into the subject of identity politics, Scarborough brought up Justice Clarence Thomas [emphasis mine]:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Well let’s talk about identity politics because we had somebody say that's going to play a big role in it. Thurgood Marshall replaced on the Court by Clarence Thomas, a man that I like and respect a great deal, but a man who does not exactly line up with the politics of a lot of African-Americans. Do you think that African-Americans – TAVIS SMILEY: not exactly – that is a charitable read.SCARBOROUGH: That is very charitable.SMILEY: That’s a generous read.SCARBOROUGH: He's actually – he's actually too conservative for a lot of white conservatives. But do you think that African-Americans deserve to have a justice that – on the court that represents a majority of their feelings on – let's just start with affirmative action.

Appropriately, this boneheaded exchange happened to occur on May Day.  First, one might point out that African-Americans actually do have several justices on the Supreme Court that represent a majority of their views.  They just happen to also be white justices.  This leads to the idea that the white justices’ views, no matter how aligned with those of mainstream liberal African-Americans, cannot adequately represent them – because they are white.More damaging, however, is the other implication in this statement: That Justice Thomas is not a true African-American because he, despite the color of his skin, disagrees with the legal philosophy of people who look like him.  The premise of this statement requires black people and women to be liberals, white people to be conservatives, and Hispanics are yet to be claimed – and no deviation from that pattern can be allowed by society.  No philosophical conviction is allowed - to know where you stand, you must look in the mirror.In this line of thinking, we are ideological slaves to our skin-tone.  Scarborough, as a self-described conservative, you really should know better.    Context is provided in the transcript below:Morning Joe05/01/20097:34:11 AMJOE SCARBOROUGH: Well let’s talk about identity politics because we had somebody say that's going to play a big role in it. Thurgood Marshall replaced on the Court by Clarence Thomas, a man that I like and respect a great deal, but a man who does not exactly line up with the politics of a lot of African-Americans. Do you think that African-Americans – TAVIS SMILEY: not exactly – that is a charitable read.SCARBOROUGH: That is very charitable.SMILEY: That’s a generous read.SCARBOROUGH: He's actually – he's actually too conservative for a lot of white conservatives. But do you think that African-Americans deserve to have a justice that – on the court that represents a majority of their feelings on – let's just start with affirmative action.SMILEY: I don't know if I would use the word deserve. I think it is, in fact, the President’s prerogative to choose who he thinks best for the court at that time. I think every President ought to consider how the court ought to be balanced. As an African-American I will sit and tell you that I do not agree with – there's almost nothing that Clarence Thomas has ruled on – I can think of one case that he ruled on, in a cross-burning case, which shocked the heck – I almost went into full cardiac arrest when he came down on the right side of this cross-burning case – but it was, in fact, a cross burning case, and my thing is, if you can't get that right Justice Thomas...so you and I disagree, of course, on Justice Thomas’ views.  Having said that, there is an African-American on the court and if identity politics are going to play here, there is not a Hispanic on the court. I don't think you ought to pick and choose based upon ethnicity, but I think it is true, though, that we live now, Joe, in the most multi-cultural,  multi racial, multi-ethnic America ever, and that everybody in this great country deserves to see himself or herself represented in the court system.SCARBOROUGH: I will say, though, look at that court makeup, Mika, and see that there's only one woman on that court. I don't know how any President – conservative, liberal, Democrat or Republican, doesn't make the next nominee a female. It's ridiculous. One woman on the Supreme Court doesn't seem right to me.MIKA BRZEZINSKI: I completely agree with you. There's nothing wrong with looking to broaden the outlook of the court.