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Defending Clarence Thomas

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

There has been a great re-awakening of criticism aimed towards Clarence Thomas recently, predominantly centered around the fact that Thomas’ wife made a call to the alleged former target of Thomas’ sexual harassment asking for an apology. Many news outlets are now heavily focused on what Lillian McEwen, who had a relationship with Thomas, claims about his behavior:

“He was always actively watching the women he worked with to see if they could be potential partners,” McEwen said matter-of-factly. “It was a hobby of his.”

[...] “He was obsessed with porn,” she said of Thomas, who is now 63. “He would talk about what he had seen in magazines and films, if there was something worth noting.”

McEwen added that she had no problem with Thomas’s interests, although she found pornography to be “boring.”

According to McEwen, Thomas would also tell her about women he encountered at work. He was partial to women with large breasts, she said. In an instance at work, Thomas was so impressed that he asked one woman her bra size, McEwen recalled him telling her.

If Thomas really did sexually harass his employees, he should be held accountable for it. However, these accusations appear to have little to do with legitimate sexual harassment claims — rather, they appear to merely be part of a grand attempt at smearing Thomas’ reputation.These accusations appear to have little to do with legitimate sexual harassment claims — rather, they appear to merely be part of a grand attempt at smearing Thomas’ reputation.

McEwen’s overblown generalizations, such as her claims that Thomas is “obsessed” with pornography, appear to be part of an attempt to indirectly prove Thomas sexually harassed co-workers without actually proving it. The fact that Thomas liked pornography or big breasts has absolutely nothing to do with him sexually harassing co-workers — rather, all it really does is square him away as a generic heterosexual American male. Inferring that the libido Thomas showed an ex-girlfriend is indicative of a propensity for illegal sexual harassment is ridiculous, not to mention misleading.

A healthy libido is a very good thing for a Justice to have. Justices are best when they represent a mixture of the community and the law, not when they represent some sort of sanitized legal robot — and implicit within this law-community mixture is, of course, a healthy understanding of the sexual lives of the American people. Even though many convincing arguments have been made that the elite pedigrees of the Court distance them from the American people as a whole, the Supreme Court is just as exposed to pornography as the rest of America, and we rely upon such exposure to facilitate proper decisions. One might argue that a healthy sex life and a regular exposure to sexual content is an essential thing for a Supreme Court Justice to have — how else could we ever hope to rely on the Supreme Court to make proper free speech and obscenity decisions otherwise? Cases like Hustler Magazine v. Falwell are an excellent example of this fact: one could scarcely imagine a pornographically repressed Court preserving the rights of a trashy porn magazine.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the real issue here is not about Thomas sexually harassing anyone — there are better ways to discuss the topic than accusing Thomas of liking pornography. Certainly, the alleged fact that Thomas asked a co-worker about her breast size raises many questions that may call for further investigation. Still, such articles seem to attack Thomas on any possible grounds for the sake of attacking him — not because of alleged sexual harassment, but rather because Thomas is a familiar conservative face of the Court ripe for attacking. This seems to be more and more plausible as McEwen continues to talk to the media, as now McEwen is accusing Thomas of previously being an alcoholic bully who is now “angry” and “asexual. These attacks are not purposed or meaningful, they are childish.

There is nothing wrong with debating the merits of methods of interpretation or Thomas’ record on the court — however, doing so by accusing Supreme Court Justices of being abusive sex-crazed alcoholics is not that method. If anything, Clarence Thomas deserves to be challenged with legitimate debate, not low-brow journalistic name-calling.

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