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NAACP Vows to Fight Thomas’ Confirmation

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The NAACP on Wednesday said that it strongly opposes Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, terming the black jurist too “reactionary” to replace retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall and vowing to fight his Senate confirmation.

The board of directors of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People--the nation’s oldest and most influential civil rights organization--took the position in a 49-1 vote, even though it meant opposing one of the two blacks ever nominated to the nation’s high court.

“We have concluded that Judge Thomas’ confirmation would be inimical to the best interests of African-Americans,” NAACP Chairman William F. Gibson said at a news conference. “Judge Thomas’ inconsistent views on civil rights policy make him an unpredictable element on an increasingly radically conservative court.”

“While we appreciate the fact that Judge Thomas came up in the school of hard knocks and pulled himself up by his own bootstraps . . . our concern is for the millions of blacks who have no access to bootstraps, theirs or others,” the NAACP statement said.

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In Chicago, the AFL-CIO also declared its opposition on the heels of the NAACP announcement, saying: “The President’s apparent resolve to use the appointment power to make the court the preserve of the far right-wing leaves us no other choice.”

Although their separate but coordinated announcements signaled escalating opposition to President Bush’s choice, advocates of Thomas expressed confidence that he will be approved by the Senate after a sharp political struggle reminiscent of the 1987 fight that resulted in the defeat of Robert H. Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

A senior White House official dismissed the NAACP and AFL-CIO condemnations of Thomas, saying, “The impact that they’re going to have is going to be minimal at best.”

Although expressing disappointment that the NAACP did not remain neutral, Gary Foster, the White House deputy press secretary, said the Bush Administration remains confident that Thomas will be confirmed because his support in the Senate is diverse and growing. Foster accused the NAACP of taking an “ideological stand.”

Bush has indicated willingness to wage an all-out campaign to assure Thomas’ confirmation, despite the growing criticism. Thomas himself has been courting Senate support in an unprecedented way, meeting personally with nearly half of the senators so far.

After one such meeting, with Sen. David L. Boren (D-Okla.) on Wednesday, for example, an aide to Boren said the senator is “leaning” in favor of confirmation but would make no decision until after Senate hearings on the nomination. Two other Democratic senators--J. James Exon of Nebraska and John B. Breaux of Louisiana--also had positive comments after a visit from Thomas. Breaux said that the NAACP opposition would not affect his decision.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) contended that the NAACP leadership is “out of the mainstream” because rank-and-file blacks and whites support the values of equal opportunity and hard work that he said Thomas symbolizes.

A White House official, who asked not to be identified, said that a number of law enforcement groups and other organizations will endorse Thomas in the next few weeks, offsetting the recent tide of statements by women’s groups and civil liberties organizations opposing him.

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Action by the NAACP and AFL-CIO, however, is expected to trigger opposition by the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights, an umbrella group of 185 national organizations that could be a potent lobbying force. The conference’s executive committee may take a stand next week on Thomas.

“There is a change in the dynamics,” said a civil rights activist who asked not to be identified. “This (NAACP and AFL-CIO opposition) could be a catalytic event.”

Although it is difficult to measure Thomas’ support before Senate Judiciary Committee hearings begin Sept. 10, the NAACP’s opposition could keep some senators from making a commitment now to vote for the President’s nominee.

The announcements are also likely to increase the importance of the televised hearings, when Thomas will be under close scrutiny by the nation as well as the 14 members of the panel that will question him on his philosophy and his performance as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1982 to 1990.

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The NAACP decided at its July convention in Houston to defer action on Thomas’ nomination, although Benjamin L. Hooks, the executive director, said that a clear majority favored announcing the group’s opposition at that time.

But, rather than “rush to judgment,” NAACP leaders decided to postpone a decision until they could study Thomas’ record again and meet with him, as a small group of NAACP officers and staff aides did.

“Our discussions were open and often candid,” Gibson reported, “and the results were taken into full consideration.”

But the NAACP leadership decided that Thomas’ “reactionary approach to a number of critical issues, not the least of which is affirmative action,” required them to come out against him.

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“In the final analysis, Judge Clarence Thomas’ judicial philosophy is simply inconsistent with the historical positions taken by the NAACP,” its statement said.

Although it is troubled by opposing a black nominee to the high court, Gibson said, the NAACP believes it must fight until an “appropriate replacement (for Marshall) who embodies the views of the majority of black Americans is nominated and confirmed.”


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