And so it felt like a horse-sized tongue depressor shoved down my throat to revisit that court case as part of Tuesday’s front page profile of Justice Clarence Thomas, “Clarence Thomas takes hard line on defendants“ in USA Today.
It was included to support author Joan Biskupic‘s premise about how Justice Thomas has strict, uncompromising proclivities toward prisoners and those accused of criminal actions. Biskupic wrote, “During two decades as the court’s most consistent conservative, he has taken a tough approach to criminal defendants’ cases, showing a disdain for hard-luck tales of bad childhoods and a conviction that defendants accept responsibility.”
The irony is that at his confirmation hearings, as the story points out, “Thomas explained that he would identify with defendants: ‘So I can walk in their shoes and I could bring something different to the court.‘”
But as concerns the Thompson case, the story notes how “Thomas dispassionately recounted John Thompson’s situation, brushing past how prosecutors had railroaded him and how close Thompson came to execution.”
And though Justice Thomas conceded that “prosecutors in the New Orleans district attorney office had been caught burying evidence in four prior cases,” he nevertheless concluded “there was no significant patter of violations and the district attorney could not be sued for failing to properly train his assistants.” It’s no wonder, then, that following the court’s ruling, John Thompson wrote, “The Prosecution Rests, but I Can’t“ and said “A crime was definitely committed in this case, but not by me.”
The easiest beatings to bear are somebody else’s.
USA Today also discussed Justice Thomas’ dissent in Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1 (1992). Along with Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Thomas disagreed with the majority’s decision that the use of excessive force even without “significant injury” may nevertheless violate the 8th Amendment, which states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
Justice Thomas didn’t think minor bruises, facial swelling, loosened teeth, and a cracked dental plate suffered by Louisiana prison inmate Keith Hudson when he was beaten by prison guards McMillian and Woods while he was handcuffed and shackled amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Thomas instead asserted that “judges and commentators regarded the Eighth Amendment as applying only to torturous punishments meted out by statutes or sentencing judges, and not generally to any hardship that might befall a prisoner during incarceration.”
To which, I again invoke a favorite reflection on society’s cavaliers who manifest such haughty indifference, “We all have strength enough to endure the misfortunes of others.” – François de La Rochefoucauld
Molly coddled fairness.
One may argue whether criminal defendants ought to be molly coddled or not. But as the Thompson case epitomizes, fairness should mean accountability regardless of which side of the law one happens to walk. But then there’s nothing like the self-righteousness of the latter-day reformer.
Or as Charles Caleb Colton once said, “As no roads are so rough as those that have just been mended, so no sinners are so intolerant as those that have just turned saints.”
Not as I do.
Still as well written and provocative a piece as this was, I was disappointed that USA Today failed to mention that recent embarrassing ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ moment concerning “Clarence Thomas and His Wife’s $680000 of Unreported Income .”
The “hard line” jurist treated the matter of his having failed to report his wife’s income on financial disclosure forms for at least 5 years, as a de minimis ‘trifling oversight.’ But then, “How seldom we weigh our neighbors in the same balance as ourselves.” – Thomas à Kempis