Following incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) criticism of Justice Clarence Thomas during a December 5 appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, conservative pundits have rushed to label Reid a racist for his remarks. These attacks follow a larger pattern of crying foul whenever Democrats or progressives voice opposition to a minority conservative appointee.
Here's what Reid said on Meet the Press:
TIM RUSSERT (moderator): Could you support Antonin Scalia to be chief justice of the Supreme Court?
REID: If he can overcome the ethics problems that have arisen since he was selected as a justice of the Supreme Court. And those ethics problems -- you've talked about them; every people talk -- every reporter's talked about them in town -- where he took trips that were probably not in keeping with the code of judicial ethics. So we have to get over this. I cannot dispute the fact, as I have said, that this is one smart guy. And I disagree with many of the results that he arrives at, but his reason for arriving at those results are very hard to dispute. So --
RUSSERT: Why couldn't you accept Clarence Thomas?
REID: I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written. I don't -- I just don't think that he's done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.
Conservatives in the media have insisted that Reid's objection to Thomas makes him a racist:
- Charles Krauthammer (Washington Post syndicated columnist and FOX News Channel contributor): "In the end, you've got to ask yourself, why [Justice Antonin] Scalia, good, Thomas, bad in the eyes of a man like Reid. I say it's the liberal plantation mentality, in which if you're a man on the right and white, it's OK. If you are the man on the right and you're African American, it's not." [FOX News, Special Report, 12/6/04].
- Clifford May (National Review contributor and Foundation for the Defense of Democracies President): "Look, Justice Thomas is African American and he's conservative. Some people [like Reid] will never forgive that and think that's an open opportunity to insult him." [CNN, American Morning, 12/6/04].
- Armstrong Williams (author, syndicated TV and radio host, and syndicated columnist): "Did you hear those racist remarks from Senator Harry Reid about Justice Thomas? ... Harry Reid's the one -- he said Thomas was an embarrassment. He said he cannot write. That is racism. ... That is racism, only because of the hue of his skin. ... Read his [Reid's] words. He was a racist." [FOX News, Hannity & Colmes, 12/7/04].
- Sean Hannity (FOX News co-host): "I'm just beginning to see a pattern here. I see a lot of the left attacking Condoleezza Rice. I see when -- when Justice Janice Brown, an African American woman, when the president wants to appoint her, Democrats oppose her. Democrats opposing Miguel Estrada. Democrats attacking Condi Rice, Democrats attacking Clarence Thomas. ... What I see is Democrats oppose African Americans that are conservative, but yet they claim to support minority rights. And what I'm saying here is, why, if you're for the advancement of minorities, why do you oppose every conservative African American or Hispanic American? Why is this pattern emerging?" [FOX News, Hannity & Colmes, 12/6/04]
- Rush Limbaugh (syndicated radio host): [I]t's not a new page in the playbook but it's certainly not as old as the playbook itself. But it's been around awhile. That is conservative blacks are inept, à la Clarence Thomas. ... You notice how easy it is for these people to be critical of blacks. [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 12/6/04]
- James Taranto (Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal.com editor): "It's a shame [Meet the Press moderator Tim] Russert didn't press Reid to name some Thomas opinions he considers to be poorly written. In the absence of such examples, one can't help but suspect that the new Senate Democratic leader is simply stereotyping Thomas as unintelligent because he is black." [OpinionJournal.com "Best of the Web Today" column, 12/6/04; also excerpted in columnist Greg Pierce's "Inside Politics" column for The Washington Times, 12/7/04]
- James Taranto again: "To try to make Republican judges seem menacing, the Dems could call them 'extremist' or 'out of the mainstream' (and if the judges happen to be black, add that their opinions are 'poorly written')." [OpinionJournal.com "Best of the Web Today" column, 12/8/04]
These condemnations follow a pattern among conservatives of attacking Democrats and progressives whenever they criticize minority nominees appointed by President Bush. Hannity illustrated this pattern on the December 7 edition of Hannity & Colmes, saying, "There is a level of liberal bigotry and bias against conservative minorities that needs to be dealt with in this country. ... With the way Clarence Thomas and Condi Rice is [sic] treated, Miguel Estrada, Janice Brown, Priscilla Owens [sic], there is institutionalized bias against minorities that are conservative." On November 26, right-wing pundit and author Michelle Malkin asserted that "underlying liberal bigotry" is responsible for "how liberal columnists and cartoonists are treating minority conservatives." When Democrats blocked controversial judicial nominee Miguel Estrada in 2003, MSNBC host and former Republican Representative Joe Scarborough observed that "a Hispanic comes up who's a conservative and the Democrats are blocking his nomination," asking: "Are the Democratic senators racist?" Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter labeled Democrats who questioned the qualifications of Thomas and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice as "racist."
Democrats have approved far more conservative minority judicial appointees than they have opposed. The Senate has confirmed 204 of President Bush's judicial nominees in the past four years, including 38 minorities, according to data from the advocacy organization Alliance for Justice. Of the nominees blocked by Democrats to date, only three are minorities -- Janice Rogers Brown, Claude Allen, and Miguel Estrada. Bush judicial nominee Priscilla Owen, erroneously identified by Hannity as a member of a minority group, is white. Estrada withdrew his name from consideration on September 4, 2003.