Patterico's Pontifications

9/23/2007

Toobin Will Say Whatever It Takes to Slam Clarence Thomas — Even If He Said the Exact Opposite Thing Eight Pages Earlier

Filed under: Books,General,Judiciary,Law — Patterico @ 12:00 pm

In the next few days, I will have a full review of Jeffrey Toobin’s “The Nine.” The book is readable, entertaining — and highly problematic. The issues I’m having with the book stem from Toobin’s prejudice against the conservative justices, as illustrated by two passages I just read about Clarence Thomas.

In the first, Toobin derides Thomas as an extreme conservative — a lonely voice in the wilderness who is “neither influenced by nor with influence upon his colleagues.” Toobin says that Thomas engaged in a “lonely, often solo effort” to restore a constitutional view of limited government. After five pages of describing Thomas as an isolated extreme conservative, Toobin concludes:

So Thomas was ideologically isolated, strategically marginal, and, in oral argument, embarrassingly silent.

A mere eight pages later, Toobin changes his tune entirely. In a snide response to Thomas’s speeches describing himself as a courageous outsider, Toobin sneers:

Never, on these occasions, did Thomas acknowledge that he was not some lonely voice in the wilderness but a Supreme Court justice whose votes, more often than not, were in the majority.

So Thomas is “ideologically isolated,” “strategically marginal,” and engaged in “lonely, often solo” efforts — descriptions that allow Toobin to portray Thomas as extreme. But when Thomas describes those characteristics as a virtue, Toobin suddenly downplays them — and mocks the very description of Thomas that he advanced eight pages earlier.

The only consistency here is in the negative slant against Thomas.

I don’t mean to suggest that the book is nothing but a one-sided screed against Thomas and his conservative brethren. As my upcoming review will show, Toobin also tells some heartwarming stories about Thomas as a man — stories that will no doubt surprise those who have turned Thomas into a bogeyman.

But this set of contradictory passages illustrates why I can’t trust Toobin. As entertaining as much of his book is, I’m taking it all with bucketfuls of salt.

UPDATE: Another Toobin assertion I’m skeptical of, discussed here.

13 Responses to “Toobin Will Say Whatever It Takes to Slam Clarence Thomas — Even If He Said the Exact Opposite Thing Eight Pages Earlier”

  1. Never, on these occasions, did Thomas acknowledge that he was not some lonely voice in the wilderness but a Supreme Court justice whose votes, more often than not, were in the majority.

    I’m demonstrably dense, but this is hard to follow. On what “occasions” did Thomas “never” acknowledge he was “not” a lonely voice?

    Does Toobin assert other SCOTUS colleagues hold precedent in higher regard?

    And is it indisputable that “a constitutional view of limited government” is the sign of “an extreme conservative?”

    steve (5edc39)

  2. I’m demonstrably dense . . .

    You said it; I didn’t.

    On what “occasions” did Thomas “never” acknowledge he was “not” a lonely voice?

    When he gave speeches about the need to hold fast to your principles.

    Does Toobin assert other SCOTUS colleagues hold precedent in higher regard?

    Not only does he assert this, but I believe it’s indisputably true.

    And is it indisputable that “a constitutional view of limited government” is the sign of “an extreme conservative?”

    To the extent that Thomas holds this view, many consider him extreme. I just consider him right — but then, some people consider *me* extreme!

    Patterico (2a8eaa)

  3. Ann Althouse points out that Toobin uses the same “telling” anecdote twice in the book, but using a different quote each time.

    Her conclusion: “I think it’s fair to suspect that Toobin assembles material into quotes that are not really quotes.”

    Or as I would put it, Toobin makes stuff up when it suits him, and what suits him is lying about conservatives, especially black conservatives.

    Glen Wishard (b1987d)

  4. I thought Althouse’s example demonstrated more that the book was assembled in a hack fashion, than that it showed Toobin as dishonest. Volokh has some examples that better show the tendency of Toobin to shoehorn an argument into his book without evidence.

    Robin Roberts (6c18fd)

  5. Does anyone anyone expect balance or fairness from people with agendas?

    Thomas Jackson (bf83e0)

  6. SCOTUS members and results as cartoon characters and themes…

    In response to my short post yesterday on The Jeffrey Rosen’s NYT Magazine article about Justice Stevens, one of my commenters, referring to the nine members of the Supreme Court, wrote: Nobody likes to work with a backstabber and, when the backstabbe…

    BeldarBlog (72c8fd)

  7. Personally, I think it’s more helpful to put these quotes in context. For instance:

    As O’Connor relished her place at the center of the Court’s decisions, Thomas embraced an alternative model of judging, one where he viewed himself as a principled outsider who cared little whether his opinions commanded a majority or even a single additional vote. He was a justice neither influenced by not with unfluence upon his colleagues.(p. 99)

    Later he describes Thomas’s “lonely, often solo effort” not as an effort to “restore a constitutional view of limited government,” but as a “lonely, often solo, effort to restore the Constitution in Exile, the world of Supreme Court precedent before 1937.” (p. 100)

    In fact, according to Toobin, “Rehnquist rarely assigned important majority opinions to Thomas, because his extreme views made it difficult for him to persuade a majority of his colleagues to join him.” (p. 102)

    I don’t know how accurate Toobin is in the details, but he does make a pretty convincing case the Thomas was ideologically isolated and strategically marginal. Then he goes explains that despite this, the guy was well-liked:

    So Thomas was ideologically isolated, strategically marginal, and, in oral argument, embarrassingly silent. He was also universally adored.

    As you say, he spends a couple of pages with interesting – and to me surprising – anecdotes of Thomas’ friendships with other justices, clerks, and folks in RV parks and at NASCAR races. And then the not-so-surprising grudges.

    The comment about him not being a “lonely voice in the wilderness” (p. 111) comes in the context of at least one speech where he talks about the courage it takes to “engage in debates of consdquence, and …challenge accepted wisdom” despite being treated badly, whether it’s worth the “agony” in disagreeing with the majority… etc. So I can understand the logic of pointing out that the guy actually was in a position of authority and more often than not voted with the majority.

    Itsme (6c8eb9)

  8. “Does anyone anyone expect balance or fairness from people with agendas?”

    Does anyone lack an agenda?

    JoeCitizen (d2928e)

  9. Everyone has an agenda

    mark (212c3f)

  10. I have a suspicion that there was more than one author involved in this book. And they didn’t check the work the other was doing. (it would explain the contradictions)

    Arthur (b6dd6c)

  11. It’s interesting to compare Toobin’s characterization of Thomas with that of Jan Crawford Greenburg, in her book “Supreme Conflict.”Amazon link

    Clarence Thomas has been the most maligned justice in modern history–and also the most misunderstood and mischaracterized. I found conclusive evidence that far from being Antonin Scalia’s intellectual understudy, Thomas has had a substantial role in shaping the direction of the Court–from his very first week on the bench. The early storyline on Thomas was that he was just following Scalia’s direction, or as one columnist at the time wrote, “Thomas Walks in Scalia’s Shoes.” That is patently false, as the documents and notes in the Blackmun papers unquestionably show. If any justice was changing his vote to join the other that first year, it was Scalia joining Thomas, not the other way around. But his clear and forceful views affected the Court in unexpected ways. Although he shored up conservative positions, his opinions also caused moderate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to back away and join the justices on the Left.

    Both can’t be right…I suspect Greenburg is correct.

    driver (faae10)

  12. Actually, Toobin and Greenburg agree on Thomas. Toobin writes:

    [Thomas] has an understandable sensitivity to the common (and false) notion that he functioned as Scalia’s pawn on the Court. The idea was absurd not least because the two justices’ voting records were different, with Thomas well to the right of his senior colleague.

    That’s consistent with what Greenburg wrote. Toobin then goes on to fairly articulate Thomas’ views. Toobin doesn’t agree with them, but he presents them accurately.

    Erich Kästner (787040)

  13. BTW, that quote was from page 107.

    Erich Kästner (787040)


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