Whopper of the Week: Clarence Thomas

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Oct. 12 2001 12:58 PM

Whopper of the Week: Clarence Thomas

"Senator, your question to me was did I debate the contents of Roe v. Wade, the outcome in Roe v. Wade, do I have this day an opinion, a personal opinion on the outcome in Roe v. Wade; and my answer to you is that I do not."

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--Clarence Thomas at his 1991 confirmation hearing for appointment to the Supreme Court.

"[Thomas] discussed abortion a good deal with [his fellow lawyer in the Missouri attorney general's office] Mike Boicourt, who was working on several cases in which the state was defending statutes restricting the right to an abortion (and he would go on to be the lead counsel in the landmark abortion case Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, handed down by the Supreme Court in 1989). Because of his views, Boicourt was 'ambivalent' about his work on these cases. Thomas, on the other hand, made it clear that he was anti-abortion. As part of these conversations, Boicourt and Thomas discussed Roe. Boicourt said years later that he could not remember what Thomas's views were."

-- Clarence Thomas: A Biographyby Andrew Peyton Thomas, p. 165.

"Thomas also strongly endorsed a right to life for the unborn, a view which [Reagan Assistant Attorney General William Bradford] Reynolds shared. The two discussed Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights case. Reynolds said, 'I know we discussed it. I think that he thought little of Roe v. Wade. ... [F]rom a scholarly standpoint, we were talking about constitutional law, constitutional issues, and Supreme Court decisions. It was clear he didn't think much of it.' "

--Ibid., p. 246

"Thomas limned a similar philosophy in his talks with Armstrong Williams. They discussed Roe v. Wade, which both of them opposed. 'He would also talk about where the Supreme Court would've erred on some of these decisions,' said Williams. 'He thought they weren't interpreting the Constitution but trying to make law. And that's not the proper role for a judge.' "

--Ibid., p. 247

Commentary: Andrew Peyton Thomas, whose new biography grew out of an article for the conservative Weekly Standard, does not himself believe that Clarence Thomas "probably lied under oath." He notes that Thomas "was careful to say he had never 'debated' the case--in other words, discussed it with a person of opposing viewpoint. No witnesses would emerge in the hearings or subsequent decade to contradict this narrow claim. He also denied having an opinion on Roe 'this day.' This was a subjective matter that could not be disproved. ... Still, in his desire to avoid any entanglement with Roe, the issue that most threatened his nomination, Thomas had offered strained and misleading testimony. ..."

To Chatterbox, this analysis slices the salami awfully thin. Surely one can "debate" an issue even with someone one agrees with. Otherwise your half of the conversation will consist only of saying "I absolutely agree" over and over again. And may we see by a show of hands how many people believe that Clarence Thomas opposed Roe before his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, but had no opinion during that hearing? Next case.

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