Eugene Volokh points to an excellent post about Justice Thomas by a liberal former Supreme Court clerk. The former clerk says that he is “no fan” of Justice Thomas’s jurisprudence — but he respects him as an intelligent and independent thinker:
Frankly, I don’t see what [Senate minority leader-elect Harry] Reid is talking about — Thomas’s opinions seem to me no better or worse written than anyone else’s on the Court, and calling him an “embarrassment” without further explanation is just, well, embarrassing.
. . . .
[L]et’s be clear: Thomas is a smart, creative thinker — he is not a “Scalia clone” — and he has staked out reasonably clear and consistent positions on many important legal issues. Democrats, particularly those in the Senate, need to get that through their sometimes frustratingly thick skulls and deal with it.
. . . .
It’s also legitimate to argue against Thomas as Chief Justice based on a reasoned disagreement with his legal views. But to demean him with terms like “an embarrassment to the Supreme Court” (especially while simultaneously praising Scalia as a “smart guy” who might make a good Chief) plays right into the hands of those who think that all Democrats are hypocrites. Democrats should know better.
I’m fairly confident that those who criticize Thomas, like Sen. Reid, have never actually read anything written by Justice Thomas. Those of us who have, like myself and the former clerk who wrote the linked post, generally agree that Justice Thomas is a smart guy who stakes out his own ground.
For example: I thought that Justice Thomas’s dissent in the term limits case was one of the best opinions I’d ever read from the Court. You can read it by going to this link and searching for the phrase “It is ironic” — the first three words of his dissent. It is a brilliant discussion of the source of governmental authority in the United States, and should be required reading for anyone interested in concepts of federalism. I commend it to Sen. Reid.
UPDATE: Via Howard Bashman, James Taranto offers further evidence that Sen. Reid doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about when he criticizes Thomas. Asked for specifics, Reid cited a perfectly lucid one-paragraph dissent as an example of Justice Thomas’s allegedly poor writing skills. According to Sen. Reid, Justice Thomas’s dissent was written at an eighth-grade level, while Scalia’s dissent was well reasoned. Minor problem: Justice Scalia didn’t write a dissent in that case.
It’s really a joke that a guy like this has any power whatsoever over whether Justice Thomas could become Chief Justice.