The Georgia Senate voted to erect a statue in honor of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The vote, powered through by the Republican majority, did not resonate with all members of the legislative body, particularly Black senators who objected to the proposed effigy of the judge.
One of the African-American members of the Senate was against celebrating the Peach state native because she believes the judge is a “hypocrite and a traitor.”
The Georgia Senate passed a bill to create a monument dedicated to the senior-most member of the U.S. Supreme Justice.
Georgia state Sen. Jason Anavitarte was the primary author of Senate Bill 326. He had his co-sponsor Sen. Ben Watson present the bill on the floor. He tapped Watson to present it to the Senate because the justice is from Watson’s district. That measure passed in the Senate by a vote of 32 to 21.
Now, the proposal is on its way to the state’s House of Representatives, also Republican-led, and is expected to pass. With approval from both bodies, fundraising for the statue will start.
There are a couple of reasons why Black politicians are against the creation of the monument now.
First, most of the statues that honor people in the Georgia state Capitol are memorial tributes, created after the person of influence is deceased. The reason for this is because after their death, their story has already been told. There are no surprises that might embarrass the lawmakers, state, or the republic.
State Sen. Nan Orrock, an Atlanta Democrat, said that one doesn’t know “what else is going to come up in the lifetime of an individual.”
“You put a statue up to him,” she rationalized, “You don’t want to be pulling it down later if things go badly if the person goes astray.”
An exception to this rule is the $400,000 bronze statue sculpted by Frederick Hart of the 39th U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, the only president from Georgia.
Watson, a Republican from Savannah who co-sponsored the bill for Thomas’ monument, says that Carter’s legacy and Thomas’ legacy are comparable.
“I didn’t agree with everything that President Carter did. He is a great Georgian and a president we should be proud of. I would hope that you would feel the same way about Justice Thomas. He is a wonderful person,” Watson said.
Watson’s colleagues characterize Thomas in a completely different light. Sen. Nikki Merritt said many of Thomas’ positions and votes in the Supreme Court, particularly against affirmative action and issues on the voting rights legislation, have hurt Black people.
She believes that the jurist’s character is flawed and should be in consideration when deciding on this big honor.
“It’s not that we have a problem that he is a conservative or a Republican,” Merritt said. “We think he’s a hypocrite and a traitor. It seems like white America keeps wanting to promote Justice Thomas, but we see more evidence where time and time again he subverts the struggles of Black Americans.”
Thomas’ ethics have come into question, notably his engagement with Anita Hill in 1991 that lead to sexual harassment allegations by his former employee. But the idea that he is a traitor to the race was formed in his low regard for poor Black people years before.
In a 1980 speech to conservative republicans, he disparaged his own sister for being on public assistance. He said, “She gets mad when the mailman is late with her welfare check. That`s how dependent she is. What’s worse is that now her kids feel entitled to the check too. They have no motivation for doing better or getting out of that situation.”
He is seen as a hypocrite because his words and his actions do not always line up. While he often complains about Black people defining themselves as racial victims, during the aforementioned Hill reckoning, that almost cost him his spot on the Supreme Court, he said it he was experiencing a “high-tech lynching.”
Another blazing contradiction that many ascribe to Thomas is his views on diversity and access.
Lawrence Goldstone, author of “On Account of Race: The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African American Voting Rights,” said to CNN, “His entire career is a result of thrusts for diversity that he would deny in others. How many highly talented black or Hispanic kids are out there who could really make a difference if only the starting line was staggered to take into account how much baggage they’re carrying.”
He was the first Supreme Court justice to openly criticize the high court’s landmark civil rights ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, a decision that he directly benefited from.
In 2013, he joined that high court decision on Shelby County v. Holder, a decision that removed a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and opened the doors for cases like the controversial Merrill v. Milligan case. His recent voting led, resulting in a 5-4 victory, blocked the order from a lower court requiring a new map be created that would allow for an additional all-Black district to be created. With his vote, the Supreme Court halted any opportunity for this issue to be heard before the court’s new term in the third quarter of the year.
Thomas’ voting record has been perceived to be anti-anything, not conservative, heteronormative, and white-skinned celebratory. His votes on issues pertaining to marginalized groups like women, religious minorities, and death row inmates often cause great hurt to that demographic — absent of the Christian compassion that he often lifts.
Still, Republicans believe that Justice Thomas deserves to be honored because he represents the American dream.
“The story of Justice Thomas is a Georgia story,” Republican state Sen. Brian Strickland said. “The story of who he is, not one Supreme Court decision he wrote on in 30 years up there, not allegations tossed at him in hearings over 30 years ago.”
One Black lawmaker offered that it is not about his inspirational life.
State Sen. Emanuel Jones said, “We’re not here talking about Justice Thomas as the man. We all have a great deal of respect of his many accomplishments. It’s his policies. It’s his rulings. It’s his decisions that we find extremely offensive.”
Those pushing the project said that the monument will be financed by private donations and erected in Atlanta, the state capitol.
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