Supreme Court: The Justices Scold Thomas

The Justices Scold Thomas

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At Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings last fall, his supporters argued that the judge's deprived childhood in Pin Point, Ga., would make him sensitive to the oppressed. But after writing a harsh dissent last week, the Supreme Court's youngest Justice and only black member found himself rebuked by seven of his judicial colleagues for ignoring "concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity and decency."

The court's swipe came in an opinion involving Keith Hudson, a black Louisiana prisoner who was kicked and punched by two guards while he was handcuffed and shackled. A supervisor stood by, instructing the guards "not to have too much fun." The high court held that the use of such excessive force may constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment even if the inmate does not suffer serious injury. But in a dissent joined only by Justice Antonin Scalia, Thomas wrote that the court's decision was "yet another manifestation of the pervasive view that the Federal Constitution must address all ills in our society."

If Bush appointed Thomas to reinforce the court's right-leaning majority, the move was a striking success. Thomas has voted with Scalia, the most conservative member of the high bench, in each of the 13 cases he has participated in this term. Pin Point, it seems, is a distant memory.