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NAACP Takes Long Look at Thomas As High Court Nominee

THE leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will delay at least a month before deciding whether to support or be neutral toward President Bush's nominee for the United States Supreme Court.As for opposing the appointment, that course already seems out of the question for the NAACP, the nation's largest and oldest civil rights organization. Mr. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas, a federal judge who is black, to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Thurgood Marshall, the first black to sit on the Supreme Court. What the NAACP will evaluate is whether the resemblance between the two jurists is more than skin deep. Ample evidence so far indicates that it is not. Mr. Marshall is a liberal and champion of civil rights. Mr. Thomas is a conservative who has opposed racial quotas as a mechanism for affirmative action in hiring. Marshall's decision to step down and Bush's nomination of Thomas to replace him pose a dilemma for the NAACP, whose 82nd annual convention is under way this week in Houston. The theme of the convention is "preparing a new generation for the struggle." More needs to be done to improve blacks' access to housing, health care, jobs, and education, the NAACP argues. But the organization is alarmed by a growing public perception that civil rights for minorities have been fully realized, and perhaps even gone too far. The Supreme Court is where many of the civil rights victories of the 1960s were won, and where new battles will be fought.

NAACP conducting review of Thomas's writings NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks says Thomas's record as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission "was not a good one in terms of his sensitivity toward affirmative action and racial and age discrimination. Without a shadow of doubt, our assessment of Mr. Thomas and his philosophy was not favorable. ... We are so unfavorably impressed with his known record that we are forced to look further." The NAACP has invited Thomas to meet with them and is conducting a review of his writings. What it hopes to find, Hooks says, is "some of the characteristics of Marshall," such as sensitivity to the special case of blacks. But the NAACP recognizes that, if the Thomas nomination is rejected by the Senate, then Bush's next nominee would likely not be black and also not share Marshall's views. Since for symbolic reasons it's "very important" to have an African-American on the Supreme Court, the NAACP will likely have to settle for Thomas, Hooks says. Hooks said that the board's stance on the Thomas nomination could divide the more than 500,000-member organization if it doesn't proceed carefully. But several individual delegates seemed just as stymied by the nomination. They indicated that they would await the board's guidance. Zelma Dockery, a delegate from Cameron, Texas, says: "I don't want any special privileges," but that job discrimination still occurs. Thomas, she speculates, might "see things differently" if his nomination is approved. Robert Brock, a delegate from Los Angeles, says: "As a black man, I'm in favor of a black man getting ahead, because we need that." But he criticizes Thomas as a "turncoat" in opposing affirmative action practices which Marshall helped put into place. Louis Sullivan, an African-American who is secretary of the department of Health and Human Services in Bush's Cabinet, defends Thomas as "a man of integrity ... committed to fairness, to justice, and to equal opportunity...." Another black Republican, Arthur Fletcher, chairman of the US Commission on Civil Rights, was more neutral toward the nomination, however. Noting that affirmative action put $18 billion into African-American pockets between 1969 and 1988, he pointed to import quotas on Japanese cars and asked "Why does a quota become contaminated, polluted, when it includes me?"

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