Deciphering an Enigma: The Dual Function of Black Nationalism in Clarence Thomas's Judicial Opinions

Shimazaki, John, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Parks, Stephen, English, University of Virginia

Responding directly to Corey Robin’s 2019 book, The Enigma of Clarence Thomas, this thesis uses a method of rhetorical analysis, supplemented with pertinent biographical information, to better understand the function of Justice Thomas’s Black-nationalist politics as employed in his solo judicial opinions in Missouri v. Jenkins (1995) and Virginia v. Black (2003). My examination of these opinions suggests that Justice Thomas includes Black-nationalist premises and themes therein in order to: (1) individuate, or differentiate himself jurisprudentially from his judicial colleagues while affirming his loyalties to the Black community; and (2) provide himself a rationale or platform from which to level criticism against his colleagues for what he sees as their fundamentally anti-black jurisprudence. While tentative, this conclusion seems to apply to Justice Thomas’s numerous other judicial opinions where elements of Black nationalism are present—thereby indicating that the dual function of his Black-nationalist politics outlined above is not limited to his opinions in Missouri v. Jenkins and Virginia v. Black alone. Indeed, this thesis offers an analytical paradigm with which to approach these other opinions and encourages literary and rhetorical scholars to engage with judicial opinions given the valuable insight they may be able to bring to the legal field.

MA (Master of Arts)
Law, Rhetoric, Race
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