When I started reading this book, I didn’t realize that I’d already read a book by this author. And it arguably contains some of the same flaws, which is to say, a certain tendentiousness. Which is not to say uninteresting.
Robin makes an fascinating case for Clarence Thomas as being counterintuitively driven by a sense of black nationalism. I was frankly too lazy to read all the end notes and double check it all, so I’m taking the author’s word for it, at least insofar as the citations go. No reason to doubt, I should add.
Thomas, he argues (and this, to be honest, is not really debatable), was always a political creature and that was his route to the Supreme Court. He had never been a prominent nor respected jurist nor anything like a leading legal mind. In fact, he claims that Thomas literally hired two legal scholars to help him come up with a legal philosophy, because he was angling for seat on the Supreme Court and knew he needed one, or at least he needed to plausibly claim one.
Despite this political background, he believes that politics is ultimately incapable of solving anything for black Americans. His opposition to voting rights and support for gerrymandering is really, Robin argues, about weaning black people from the idea that there can ever be a political solution.
There are more arguments like that and… it’s frankly pretty nihilistic. Which, let’s face it, Thomas’ record is pretty nihilistic.
Something more than mid way through, perhaps around the 2/3 mark, there is a remark which struck me because it encapsulated something in head and which also, I believe, explains well the judicial philosophy of the late (great?) Antonin Scalia:
There is little doubt, however, that the originalist Constitution, the vision of the text as it was written and understood at a distant point in time, plays an outsized role in Thomas’s imagination. The originalist Constitution functions as an organizing myth, a holy fire Thomas is forever nearing, an idea more important for its “expressive function” – what is says to Thomas and what he means to say by invoking it – than for its regulatory role in his jurisprudence.The Enigma of Clarence Thomas, pp 151-152