The Hypocrisy of Clarence Thomas

His opposition to personal autonomy for women and all of us

In 1865 enslaved people were set free in America, and in 1868, by virtue of several Constitutional amendments, their freedom and rights were permanently enshrined. According to The 1619 Project, a brilliant history of slavery in America, freedom began to blossom for them. African-Americans became eligible for free public education, some attended integrated schools, and some even went on to earn college degrees at the University of South Carolina. The golden moment of integration and equal rights lasted only a decade until 1877 when federally supervised post-Civil-War Reconstruction ended. Freedom was granted and then rescinded, and the Southern states replaced equality with the segregation and discrimination of Jim Crow.

Photo by DJ Paine on Unsplash

How ironic it is then that Clarence Thomas, whose enslaved ancestors experienced the cruelty of rights gained and then lost, should lead conservatives on the Supreme Court to eliminate rights granted to others. He was a key advocate of the recent Dobbs decision rescinding the rights of privacy and health care autonomy for women. Thomas said he does not believe there is a right of privacy and that the court should reconsider other privacy-based decisions that could eliminate marriage equality, outlaw certain consensual sexual behaviors, and prohibit contraception.

Though women are horrendously and unequally affected by Dobbs, we should make no mistake that this improper and unconstitutional decision affects every American. The right to privacy is implicit in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, and it doesn’t take a legal scholar to see it: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated….” What does freedom from unreasonable searches mean if not that our bodies, homes, and personal documents are private and protected against government or any other intrusion? If there is no right to privacy, there is no freedom for anyone in America from intrusion into our private lives, and the freedoms Thomas wants to eliminate are all likely to fall in future decisions.

But make no mistake. It won’t stop there. Without protection of our privacy, every person in America can be subject to government intrusion and control. No one will be free. There will be no limits of how local, state, or federal governments can regulate your behavior or control your life.

There's no telling how far that control might go, but it doesn’t take much imagination to figure it out. States are already passing laws to restrict women's travel to obtain out-of-state reproductive healthcare. Could the states enact travel restrictions for everyone? Might there be government cameras to monitor all public spaces to detect who is engaging in restricted travel? How long would it be before we have cameras in our homes to monitor our sexual activity, contraceptive use, and even our thoughts and speech. Big Brother and the world of 1984 are just over the horizon.

How ironic it is, then — how hypocritical — that a man whose ancestors were enslaved, set free, and then had that freedom taken away, should be the leader of a Supreme Court effort to eliminate so many freedoms stemming from the right to privacy. Religious conservatives on the court have already made women subject to government control of their bodies. Eventually they will make us all subject to government control of our sexuality, our use of contraceptives, and our choices as to whom we can love and marry. The court may eventually curtail many other freedoms derived from a right to privacy.

In yet another grotesque irony, Thomas's and the court's desire to reexamine other privacy rulings is based more on their religious than legal views. Codifying a particular moral and religious perspective as the law of the land clearly establishes a form of government religion, which is specifically prohibited by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Such high court rulings would be a religious bigot’s dream but a nation's nightmare. Given his heritage, Clarence Thomas, of all people, should have a heart for protecting liberty, but instead he has made it his mission to enslave us all.

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