By LAURIE ASSEO, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — People who disagree with political orthodoxy should not “censor ourselves” or yield to criticism, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Tuesday.
“By yielding to a false form of civility, we sometimes allow our critics to intimidate us,” the justice said at the annual dinner of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
“Active citizens are often subjected to truly vile attacks; they are branded as mean-spirited, racist, Uncle Tom, homophobic, sexist, etc.,” Thomas said. As a result, he added, sometimes “we censor ourselves. This is not civility, it is cowardice, a well-intentioned self-deception at best.”
Thomas, who joined the court in 1991 after a bruising confirmation battle, told of getting a strong negative reaction in 1980 when as a government official he was quoted as questioning the “sacred policies” of affirmative action, welfare and school busing.
“Debate was not permitted. Orthodoxy was enforced,” Thomas said. “When whites questioned the conventional wisdom on these issues it was considered bad form. When blacks did so, it was treason.”
“These rules of orthodoxy still apply,” the justice said. “You had better not engage in serious debate or discussion unless you are willing to endure attacks that range from mere hostile bluster to libel.”
However, he added, “one should not be cowed by criticism.”
Thomas said that after he dissented from a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that let inmates sue prison guards for using excessive force even if no serious injuries are inflicted, “I was widely denounced for advocating the beating of prisoners, which is ridiculous.”
People who say children should be raised in two-parent families “are often accused of trying to impose their values on others,” Thomas said. He called such criticism “purely and simply an in-your-face response. It is, in short, intimidation.”
But he said people should not shy away from stating their views.
“We are required to wade into those things that matter to our country and our culture, no matter what the disincentives are or the personal cost,” Thomas said.