Just in case you hadn't been paying attention, USA Today reports that
Clarence Thomas takes hard line on defendants
That's the headline. Joan Biskupic lays it out for us.
During two decades as the court's most consistent conservative, he has taken a tough approach to criminal defendants' cases, showing a disdain for hard-luck tales of bad childhoods and a conviction that defendants accept responsibility.
There's nothing new here. Biskupic runs through a few of Thomas's opinions - for the Court and in dissent - just to remind us. But read the details she offers and you see a man who's more than "tough."
Thomas signaled his approach early four months after his October 1991 confirmation. He dissented in a case involving a Louisiana prisoner who had been shackled and punched by guards as a supervisor looked on. The beating loosened the inmate's teeth and cracked his dental plate.The court majority in Hudson v. McMillian ruled the beating violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Thomas, joined only by Scalia, argued that the Eighth Amendment was not violated by the "insignificant" harm the inmate suffered.
Biskupic notes that the New York Times
blasted Thomas' dissenting opinion in an editorial titled, "The Youngest, Cruelest Justice."
But it isn't cruelty. That's not the right word. Consider Cullen v. Pinholster from this term. Biskupic writes:
Thomas wrote: "When he was very young, Pinholster suffered two serious head injuries, first at age 2 or 3 when he was run over by a car, and again at age 4 or 5 when he went through the windshield during a car accident. When he was 5, Pinholster's stepfather moved in and was abusive, or nearly so."In her rendition of the facts, Sotomayor noted that it was Pinholster's mother who ran him over as child. Regarding the stepfather, Sotomayor offered no "nearly so" caveat: "Pinholster's stepfather beat him several times a week, including at least once with a two-by-four board," she wrote. "There was so much violence in the home that Pinholster's brother dreaded coming home each day. Pinholster's half-sister was removed from the home as a result of a beating by his stepfather."
You can skip over most of that. Focus on these two things. Thomas says Pinholster's stepfather was "abusive, or nearly so." Sotomayor says Pinholster was beaten by the man "several times a week, including at least once with a two-by-four board."
It's not cruel to question whether that's abusive. It's disdainful. (And essentially irrelevant to the decision, but that's a different question.)
Suck it up is his mantra. Whether you deserve it or not. Them's the breaks. If your life sucks, live with it. If someone hurts you, too bad. No remedies. No relief. No comfort. No apologies.
So what if you spent decades in prison for a crime you didn't commit, almost got executed for it? That's life. Why should the people who cheated to put you there have to pay for what they did? Some people are winners, others losers.
And who cares about the losers?