Justice Clarence Thomas under scrutiny

Amid myriad news reports yesterday that Virginia Thomas, wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was (and remains) a leading member of a conservative group that sought to discredit Joe Biden’s victories over President Donald Trump in the 2020 election aftermath, the question that begs asking is: “Should Clarence Thomas resign from office?”

Well, as I learned during my very first day of law school orientation many years ago, the simple answer is: “it depends.”

To make it plain, I have known for the better part of two decades that the entire concept of “non-partisan” judges is somewhat of a sham. Meaning, judges are privately political the same as every other American, even if they can’t publicly advocate on behalf of Democratic or Republican candidates or policies. But there is a reason that when it comes to judicial selections that presidents and governors nominate judges that share the same ideological bent; recent President Barack Obama would not have selected qualified conservatives Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, or Amy Coney Barrett, no more than former President Trump would have selected qualified moderate or progressive jurists like Merrick Garland or Ketanji Brown Jackson.

So the issue that must be squared is whether Virginia Thomas has used her current position as a leader of the Council for National Policy to impact any cases or controversies that her husband, Justice Thomas, has or must render a legal opinion? Thus, the “it depends” language because while the 2020 election cases didn’t reach full hearings or decisions that may have compelled Justice Thomas to recuse himself, recent events are far more sketchy—and the source of Thomas’s current scrutiny.

Specifically, all of the major media outlets yesterday, including the NY Times, noted that Virginia Thomas: “co-signed a letter in December calling for House Republicans to expel Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger from their conference for joining the Jan. 6 committee. Thomas and her co-authors said the investigation ‘brings disrespect to our country’s rule of law’ and ‘legal harassment to private citizens who have done nothing wrong,’ adding that they would begin ‘a nationwide movement to add citizens’ voices to this effort.’”

Ordinarily, there would be nothing wrong with Virginia Thomas signing such a letter per her official position within the organization but with one exception—she had to know that issues surrounding the January 6th MAGA Riots, and whether to release records from the Trump White House about those riots, would eventually make its way to her husband’s desk…which it did…with the Supreme Court ruling 8-1 to release the records. 

The one “no” vote in dissent? None other than Virginia’s hubby, Justice Clarence Thomas!

What renders Justice Thomas’s refusal to recuse odd is that each of the three conservatives that Trump appointed, the aforementioned Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Coney-Barrett, voted with the entire court to release the records. One must not be a brilliant legal scholar to realize that a former president no longer holds executive privilege to block such records, which is why the ENTIRE Court ruled to release them—except for Thomas. Which leads to the legitimate question as to whether his legally flawed “no” vote was in support of his wife’s position? 

Well, only Justice Thomas can know the basis of his decision, but what is crystal clear is that Thomas violated one of the oldest judicial canons that’s repeated time and again by judges in the field, which is that a judge “is to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.” Nevertheless, like most things within the legal profession, how discipline is meted when impropriety occurs from a jurist depends greatly upon the whims of those making the decision!

Which makes me circle back to the original hot topic, “should Clarence Thomas resign?” I think that he very well should, but I have read enough of his legal opinions, public speeches, biographies, and his autobiography “My Grandfather’s Son” to know that he is a tough and ornery man who will not admit fault in any way, shape, or form. 

Knowing that Thomas will not resign, that would only leave impeachment as a route to remove him from office. But the reality is that only one Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Chase, has ever been impeached—and that was way back in 1805 during the Thomas Jefferson administration. Even then, Chase was acquitted in the Senate and held his position. 

Similarly, with the Senate divided along partisan lines, there is no way on Earth that a super-majority of Senators would vote to remove Thomas, especially with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell routinely praising him as the most brilliant justice on the current court. 

So no, Justice Thomas will remain in office until he retires or passes away—while the rest of us are reminded that hubris in the highest levels of government remains painfully unchecked in the modern era. 

Black History Hobbservations: Homer Plessy

In 1896, when Homer Plessy challenged the new racial caste system that forbade Blacks from sitting alongside whites on trains, the United States Supreme Court held that such “Jim Crow” laws were constitutional. By so doing, the Supreme Court ensured that within a decade, no Blacks held high elected office anywhere in the South, that Black voting became a nullity, and that Black businesses were either eliminated outright—or directly controlled by white “benefactors.”

But who was the plaintiff, Mr. Plessy?

Homer Plessy was born on March 17, 1862 in New Orleans to Joseph Adolphe Plessy and Rosa Debergue, both of whom were Creole. Plessy’s grandfather, Germain, was a white Frenchman who fled Saint-Domingue in the early days of General Toussaint L’Ouverture’s revolution in Haiti. The elder Plessy settled in New Orleans and married Catherine Mathieu—a free Black woman—and together they had eight children (including Joseph Plessy, Homer’s father). 

As a young adult, Homer Plessy became a shoemaker by trade and supplemented his income as a postal clerk and an insurance agent. In 1887, as Louisiana, like most of its former Confederate sister states, began drafting laws that usurped Black rights under the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, Plessy joined and became Vice President of the “Justice, Protective, Educational, and Social Club,” a group that unsuccessfully challenged the segregation of Orleans Parish public schools. Indeed, Louisiana schools had become segregated after Reconstruction despite a provision in the Louisiana state constitution that prohibited the establishment of separate schools on the basis of race. 

Plessy’s journey into American historical infamy would begin on June 7, 1892, when he presented to the Press Street Depot in New Orleans, bought a first-class ticket to Covington, and boarded the East Louisiana Railroad’s Number 8 train. Plessy knew that the nascent segregation customs would compel the train’s conductors to force him off the train—or get himself arrested (or both). In a scene that would be replicated decades later by Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, the train conductor asked Plessy, a fair skinned Black man who could have passed for white (but was unapologetically Black), whether he was “Colored.” After boldly replying “yes,” the Conductor demanded that Plessy move to the “Colored” car and when Plessy refused, he was dragged off the train and thrown into jail. 

The next morning, Plessy was charged with violating Louisiana’s “Separate Car Act” and his lawyers moved to dismiss on the grounds that the law violated the 14th Amendment’s provision of equal justice regardless of race. After the motion was denied, his lawyers appealed the decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court, one that upheld the lower court’s decision. Thus, the stage was set for an appeal to the United States Supreme Court, one that ultimately held that Louisiana’s “Separate Car Act” was constitutional because it provided “separate but equal” accommodations to white and Black passengers alike. This decision, as referenced above, gave Southern states full authority to segregate on account of race —an authority that would remain legally intact until 1954, when the Brown vs. Board of Education case overturned this ignominious precedent.

As for Plessy, after suffering defeat in the United States Supreme Court, he paid the $25 fine and spent the rest of his life quietly working as a laborer and insurance salesman until his death in 1925 in Metairie, Louisiana.

Black College Feature

Each day during Black History Month, I will feature one of America’s leading HBCUs.

Next up: Meharry Medical College

History: Meharry Medical College was founded in 1876 in Nashville, Tennessee, following a generous gift from Samuel Meharry, a Scot-Irish immigrant who had been helped by a formerly enslaved family when his wagon broke down while traveling through the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  The college was established by the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Freedman’s Aid Society that year as the Medical Department of Central Tennessee College, with the school’s express purpose being the provision of medical training for the formerly enslaved.

In 1886, the school expanded to include a Dental Department, and a Pharmacy Department was added in 1889.

In 1900, Central Tennessee College changed its name to Walden University in honor of John Morgan Walden, a bishop of the Methodist Church who had often ministered to the formerly enslaved. In 1915, the medical department faculty of Walden University received a separate charter as Meharry Medical College which included the departments of pharmacy and dentistry. The Medical College remained in its original buildings, while Walden University moved to another campus in Nashville.

In 1952, Dr. Harold D. West became Meharry’s first Black president, and under his leadership, the campus expanded and a new wing was added to Hubbard Hospital. 

Academics: Meharry students may earn professional and graduate degrees within the Schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Allied Health Professions and Graduate Studies and Research. Meharry is also home to an Asthma Disparities Center, the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neurosciences, the Center for Women’s Health Research, a Clinical Research Center, the Export Center for Health Disparities, and the Meharry Center for Health Disparities Research in HIV

Meharry also partners with several HBCUs to provide a BS/MD program. These universities include Alabama A&M University, Albany State University, Fisk University, Grambling State University, Jackson State University, Southern University, and Tennessee State University.

Meharry is among the top five producers of Black PhD’s in America, and holds the distinction of having educated 41 percent of Black dentists in the country. 

Meharry is home to numerous student groups ranging from the NAACP to the Gospel Choir. Divine Nine Black Greek Letter Organizations represented on campus include the Kappa Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Chi Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Delta Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., and the Kappa Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.

Motto: “Worship of God Through Service to Mankind” 

Famous Alumni/Figures: Former Meharry President and US Surgeon General David Satcher; Dr. Hastings Banda, former President of Malawi, Dr. Audrey Manley, first Black to serve as Assistant Surgeon General; Dr. Robert Walter Johnson, former  coach of tennis legend Althea Gibson; Dr. Walter Tucker, former Mayor of Compton, CA. Dr. Willie Adams, Mayor of Albany, Ga.; Dr. Charles Wright—Founder of the Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, MI; Dr. Dorothy Brown, first Black woman admitted to American College of Surgeons; Dr. Huda Zoghbi, geneticist, winner of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences; Minnesota State Rep. Alice Mann, MD; Dr. Conrad Murray, physician convicted of manslaughter in the death of music legend Michael Jackson; Dr. Corey Hebert, physician, educator, journalist, Dr. E. Anthony Rankins, Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery at Providence Hospital & Founder of Rankin Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, Dr. Joseph Durham, Founder- Morris College (HBCU);  Dr. Charles Roman, author: “A History of Meharry Medical College.”

Thank you and please subscribe to the Hobbservation Point—have a wonderful day!

Chuck Hobbs is a freelance journalist who won the 2010 Florida Bar Media Award and has been twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.


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