Jeffrey Toobin’s The Nine and Justice Thomas:

I blogged below about some factual errors in The Nine that worried me. But I was also troubled by a couple of other things; they are judgment calls, and perhaps you might agree with the author’s judgment more than mine, but I thought I’d mention them.

In particular, let me start with the book’s treatment of Justice Thomas, which at times strikes me as not entirely fair. Let me offer a few example:

1. On pp. 109-10, the book discusses Justice Thomas’s speech in which he asserts “my right to think for myself, to refuse to have my ideas assigned to me as though I was an intellectual slave because I’m black.” Justice Thomas, the book argues, “chose to attack straw men. No one quarreled with Thomas’s right to his own views; no one said black people had to speak with one voice; no one asserted that support for causes like affirmative action was obligatory for Thomas or anyone else …. It was the substance of Thomas’s views, not his right to hold them, that his critics attacked.”

Is that really right? Unless I’m mistaken, Justice Thomas has quite often been faulted for his positions not just substantively, but by being damned as a traitor to his race, Uncle Tom, house Negro, and the like — statements that do suggest that he should have had certain ideas precisely because he’s black, and that black leaders did indeed have to speak with one voice on those issues. As leading liberal black professor Randall Kennedy put it (describing the phenomenon, not endorsing it), “[a]mong professional blacks, especially lawyers, he is widely ostracized and routinely vilified as an ‘Uncle Tom.'” Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders publicly called Thomas an “Uncle Tom” (see Wash. Post, May 2, 1995); the Rev. Joseph Lowery publicly said (see Atlanta Journal & Constitution, June 4, 1996) that Thomas “has become to many in the African-American community what Benedict Arnold was to the United States, a deserter; what Judas was to Jesus, a traitor, and what Brutus was to Caesar, an assassin.” Is Justice Thomas really attacking straw men when he responds to this the way he did? Is it really the case that “no one [has] asserted that support for causes like affirmative action was obligatory for Thomas” and other blacks like him?

2. Likewise, on p. 112, the author dismisses Julianne Malveaux — who said in a cable interview that “I hope his wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter and he dies early like a lot of black men do” — as “an obscure columnist.” Her columns have appeared roughly once a month in USA Today, one of the highest-circulation newspapers in the country.

3. On p. 111, the book describes how Thomas received a $1.5 million book advance for his memoirs from Rupert Murdoch, and adds in a parenthetical, “More than three years after the contract was announced, and $500,000 paid to him, Thomas had still not delivered a manuscript.” If that’s just faulting Justice Thomas for being a slow writer, that’s fine, though I expect that three years isn’t that long a time for writing a manuscript. But if the claim is that he’s somehow taking money and delivering only vaporware — which I think is the impression the parenthetical leave — might it have been worth mentioning that the book is coming out just a few weeks after The Nine? The author might not have known this when he was writing the manuscript, but I’d think it could have been checked before The Nine went to press.

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