SCLC reverses opinion, criticizes Justice Thomas


The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the only major civil rights group to back Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court, has come out against him.

At its meeting in Baltimore yesterday, the SCLC board took a unanimous vote of "no confidence" in Justice Thomas, the court's only black member.

The group said in a strongly worded resolution that it was "profoundly disturbed" by his decisions since he joined the court five months ago after a bruising confirmation battle.

"Justice Clarence Thomas has failed to demonstrate the compassion, sensitivity, independence and intellectual courage . . . that was the prayer of the SCLC," the group said.

Instead, the group said, Justice Thomas has shown a "harsh conservatism," sided consistently with Justice Antonin Scalia, the court's most conservative member, and joined what it called the court's "tilt in favor of the rich and powerful."

The vote, taken at a closed session of the SCLC board, brought the group into line with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Congressional Black Caucus, both of which opposed the Thomas nomination. Board members confirmed the unanimous vote, and The Sun obtained the text of the resolution, which specifically criticized Justice Thomas for his votes in three cases:

* A voting rights case in which Justice Thomas sided with the court majority in ruling that counties could shift duties from elected to appointed officials. Black elected officials contended that such a shift diluted the meaning of their election.

* A prisoner rights case in which the court said it was unconstitutional for prison guards to cause pain intentionally even if no serious injury to a prisoner resulted. Justices Thomas and Scalia dissented.

* A death penalty case in which the court barred prosecutors from using a convicted murderer's racist views and membership in a white supremacist prison gang as reasons to justify a death sentence. Justice Thomas was the lone dissenter. He argued that gang membership was evidence of "bad character" that could justify execution.

The SCLC said Justice Thomas showed in that case an "apparent willingness to undercut the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of association, a bedrock principle for groups like the SCLC, in his zeal to uphold a death penalty sentence."

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