The Partisan Reaction to Clarence Thomas' Memoir:

Ohio Northern University law professor Scott Gerber, a leading academic expert on Clarence Thomas, has an excellent column on the highly partisan pattern of reactions to Clarence Thomas' recent memoir:

... [A]lmost all of the reaction to Justice Thomas's opinions and votes is partisan. As I detailed in First Principles, commentators are either "for" Justice Thomas or "against" him, in the crassest possible sense. The reaction to Justice Thomas's memoir, My Grandfather's Son, continues this disturbing trend. There are exceptions--David J. Garrow's review for Legal Times stands out among them--but they are few and far between.

Gerber provides some excellent examples of highly flawed commentary on Thomas' memoir from both the left and the right. I don't agree with everything Gerber says in the column, but he makes some telling points.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the way in which people's views on the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill controversy break down along predictable partisan lines, with nearly all conservatives certain that Thomas was telling the truth, and nearly all liberals just as strongly believing Hill. I suggested that this pattern betrays considerable partisan bias in judgment, since the actual facts of the Hill-Thomas dispute (a classic he said-she said) are murky enough to make it difficult to be sure who was telling the truth; quite possibly both were telling the truth on some points while exaggerating or misreporting others. Absent partisan bias, one would expect to see at least some liberals believing Thomas, some conservatives believing Hill, and a lot more people in both camps uncertain about the truth.

Unfortunately, there is a similar pattern in most commentators' reactions to Thomas' memoir and to his judicial opinions. One should be able to dislike the memoir or disagree with Thomas' jurisprudence without demonizing him. Similarly, one can agree with much of what he writes (as I do), without making absurd claims to the effect that he didn't benefit at all from affirmative action or asserting, as some conservatives have, that Thomas is a victim of racially motivated attacks from the left that rise to the level of lynching and other abuses of the Jim Crow era.

UPDATE: Just to clarify, I do agree with conservatives that some of the attacks on Thomas are racially motivated (Eugene Volokh provides some examples here), and that prominent black conservatives are often subjected to much harsher attack by the left than white ones. However, it is false to claim, as John Yoo (quoted by Gerber), for example has, that "Liberal attacks on Justice Thomas echo segregation-era hate speech," or to assert that these liberal attacks are similar to lynching.