In September, the Smithsonian opened the doors of the brand new National Museum Of African-American History and Culture. The museum, on the National Mall near the Washington Monument, features extensive exhibits on a variety of topics related to black Americans. But one well-known black American is missing from the displays: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. That alleged “snub” has conservatives outraged.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz was one of the first to complain about the “snub.” On December 19 Cruz wrote to the Smithsonian, saying,
As much as I am grateful for the museum and its efforts to preserve and promote the indispensable, yet oft-neglected, contributions of African Americans to the collective history of our nation, I believe the museum has made a mistake by omitting the enormous legacy and impact of Justice Thomas, as well as his compelling background.
Tucker Carlson, one of the white “experts” on race at Fox, agreed with Cruz. On his show Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson welcomed Fox host Shannon Bream to discuss the fact that the only mention of Thomas in the new museum is in an exhibit about Anita Hill. Hill is the attorney who famously accused Thomas of sexual harassment when she worked for him. Thanks in part to Hill’s accusations, Thomas was only narrowly confirmed in the Senate.
Carlson and Bream weren’t the only Fox personalities to grumble about the “slight” against Thomas. Fox Business host Charles Payne took to Twitter with his complaint.
So Tupac gets in the Rock and Roll hall of Fame but Clarence Thomas didn't make the National Museum of African American History and Culture?
— Charles V Payne (@cvpayne) December 21, 2016
In all of the conversation about the alleged insult to Thomas there is one fact that is largely not mentioned: Clarence Thomas was not the first African-American to occupy a seat on the Supreme Court. That honor belongs to Thurgood Marshall. The name of Justice Marshall is never uttered, and he is virtually ignored, save for one small note by Bream that Thomas is the second black man to sit on the court.
There’s no denying that Clarence Thomas’s story has some inspiring moments, as Carlson and Bream discuss. But why should being the second African-America to sit on the Supreme Court earn him special recognition? Everyone knows the name of Jackie Robinson. But who was the second black player in major league baseball? (It was Larry Doby, who likely faced the same challenges as Robinson, but who doesn’t get remembered because he wasn’t the ground-breaker.)
There’s also the matter of the contributions, or lack thereof, from Thomas to the body of landmark legal decisions. Thomas has spent most of his career on the Supreme Court agreeing with the votes of his mentor, the late Antonin Scalia. He typically sits silently and almost never asks questions from the bench.
In comparison, before joining the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall served as a U.S. Court of Appeals judge. His biographers note that none of the decisions he issued in that capacity were ever overturned by the Supreme Court. Later, as U.S. Solicitor General he won 14 of the 19 cases he argued before the court on behalf of the government. Marshall followed those achievements by being nominated to the court by President Johnson in 1967. He would remain on the court until 1991, when he was replaced by Thomas.
But the biggest reason Thomas isn’t honored in the museum was explained by a museum spokesperson, who told The Washington Times,
We do not have plans to create an exhibition on Justice Clarence Thomas or any Supreme Court justice as part of the museum’s exhibitions. The museum’s exhibitions are based on themes, not individuals.
Once again conservatives have attempted to generate phony outrage over nothing. But if it wasn’t for phony outrage, they wouldn’t have much of anything to be outraged over at all.
Here is Tucker Carlson and Shannon Bream being shocked that Justice Thomas isn’t recognized by a museum exhibit, via Fox News: