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Conservatives Still Hail Bush 41 for Clarence Thomas

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Tuesday, 04 December 2018 09:33 AM Current | Bio | Archive

As the nation prepared to mourn George H.W. Bush this week, many Republican conservatives still had mixed opinions of the 41st President.

“George H.W. Bush was by all accounts a special and good man but he wasn’t a conservative,”  Richard Viguerie, one of the founding fathers of the modern conservative movement, told Newsmax. “In fact he was probably anti-conservative and set the conservative cause back some years.”

Along with Bush’s 1990 breaking of his “no-new-taxes” pledge, Viguerie reminded us that “when he became President at noon Jan. 20, 1989, a firing of all Reaganites began and by sun down that day ever person in the administration who supported Ronald Reagan in 1980 over Bush was fired.”

But as disappointed as the right was with Bush, they nonetheless single out and hail one pivotal appointment he made during his one-term presidency: that of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

Fraught with controversy stemming from highly personal charges by former Thomas employee Anita Hill, the Thomas nomination was finally confirmed by the Senate in a close (52-to-48) vote on October 15, 1981. 

He has since established a solid reputation as a textualist, or believer in the original meaning of the Constitution and the statutes enacted by Congress.  Since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, Thomas has been widely viewed as the most conservative justice on the high court.

“[H]e has been the kind of justice we all hoped he would be—exactly what [Bush’s other Supreme Court appointee] David Souter wasn’t,” wrote Bush’s White House chief of staff John Sununu.

When Justice Thurgood Marshall announced his retirement in 1991, Bush turned to Thomas — a past chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and judge of the DC Court of Appeals for just over a year. 

Many instantly concluded that Thomas being black was the chief reason behind his appointment to succeed the nation’s first black Supreme Court justice.

But Sununu and others close to the situation insist this isn’t true. They point out that Thomas was on the short list for the vacancy the previous year that went to Souter. Moreover, they note that Bush’s finalists to succeed Marshall were Thomas and Judge Reynaldo Garza of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (who would have become the first Mexican-American justice had he been named).

Despite some surprising objections to Thomas from then-U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, Bush had the jurist flown to his home in Kennebunkport, Maine and asked him: “If you go on the Supreme Court, can you call them as you see them?”

After Thomas said “yes,” Bush revealed he would announce his appointment later in the day and said “let’s go have lunch.”

In the initial hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by then-Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., Thomas was hit hard by Democrats over the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide. Thomas said little to indicate an opinion and the committee voted to send his nomination to the Senate. 

Then came the sensational charges by Hill about sexual harassment by the nominee and the heated denials by Thomas.  A parade of witnesses followed, with witnesses who knew and dealt with both of the protagonists siding with Thomas.

Thomas own fighting statement dismissing his opposition as “the high tech lynching of an uppity black man who thinks for himself” clearly resonated with the public.  Polls showed the vast majority of Americans believed him over accuser Hill.  Obviously aware that black voters resoundingly backed Thomas, many Democratic senators from the South voted for his confirmation.

"Senator Hatch told us that he knew of a handful of Democratic senators who believed Thomas but felt they had to vote against him," Sununu wrote. 

Bush later told daughter Doro Koch that he felt Thomas “got brutalized in the hearings.”

“In the view of the liberal opponents of Clarence Thomas, there is no such thing as a distinguished conservative black person,” he said, “If you’re conservative, they’ll turn on you….I found it very offensive and the more they piled on him, the more determined I was to stay with him and support him.”

Bush also recalled how Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo, Thomas’s close friend and mentor, and the nominee came to the White House.  When Thomas asked “Do you think it’s time I got out of the race,” Bush said.

“I put my arm around him and I said ‘You can’t do that.  You’ve got to stay in this fight.  And you’re going to be confirmed.  I’m sure of it.  You’ll be a great justice.’  And he has been.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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As the nation prepared to mourn George H.W. Bush this week, many Republican conservatives still had mixed opinions of the 41st President.
conservatives, bush 41, clarence thomas
Tuesday, 04 December 2018 09:33 AM
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