WASHINGTON – After comparing him to "Hitler" and characterizing him as an "Uncle Tom," a vocal group of members of Hawaii's American Civil Liberties Union convinced their board to reject an invitation for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to participate in an upcoming conference.
Pam Lichty, the president of the ACLU of Hawaii, said Monday that the board had voted against a proposal to invite Thomas to debate national ACLU President Nadine Strossen about affirmative action at the Davis-Levin First Amendment conference. The purpose of the conference, according to founder Robert Rees, "is to offer pitched debates on constitutional issues." The idea for Thomas to participate was first discussed by ACLU members after Justice Antonin Scalia had participated in an earlier conference.
Lichty said Thomas, who is African-American and is known as one of the more conservative members of the high court, was deemed by the board an "inappropriate" guest for the debate after "adamant opposition by the only African-Americans on the board."
‘Uncle Tom,’ ‘Hitler,’ ‘Anti-Christ’ Rolled Into One
A letter to the ACLU of Hawaii Board of Directors in early April by one of its board members, attorney Daphne Barbee-Wooten, expressed grave concerns with inviting Thomas.
"Faye Kennedy, Eric Ferrer and I are the only African-Americans in the Hawaii ACLU chapter," the letter by Barbee-Wooten stated. "We strongly object to ACLU bringing and sponsoring Clarence Thomas to Hawaii. … Bringing Clarence Thomas sends a message that the Hawaii ACLU promotes and honors black Uncle Toms who turn their back on civil rights."
After these objections were raised, the matter was referred to the entire ACLU of Hawaii Board of Directors. At a board meeting in late May to consider the possible invitation, Eric Ferrer, one of the first ACLU chapter members to express reservations about inviting Justice Thomas, called Thomas "an anti-Christ, a Hitler," and he compared having Thomas discuss the merits of affirmative action to "having a serial murderer debate the value of life."
The final board vote was 12-3 against inviting Thomas, Lichty said.
The chapter members who had made the remarks about Thomas did not to return requests for comment Monday.
'Politically Correct Posturing'
But the comments and subsequent refusal to extend an invitation have drawn the ire of the ACLU's national headquarters. A spokesman for the organization on Monday said the actions of the Hawaii board were "deplorable" and that the national ACLU in no way defends such "politically correct posturing."
And Robert Rees, who funds the Davis-Levin First Amendment conference and first wrote about the episode in Honolulu Weekly, calls the entire episode "an absurd case of political correctness."
Rees said national ACLU President Nadine Strossen had been involved with some of the early talks about inviting Thomas to the debate and was "disappointed" with the board's behavior when he called her about the vote. Strossen could not be reached for comment on Monday, but a spokesman for the ACLU said Executive Director Ira Glasser would be forwarding a letter to the Hawaii affiliate to say they do not condone the Hawaii board's actions.
Vanessa Chong, the executive director of the Hawaii affiliate, said she hopes this isn't the last word on the matter. "I strongly recommended that we endorse the invitation to Justice Thomas to participate but that was overlooked," Chong said Monday. "This was a mistake," she said, adding that the board's decision contradicted the group's stated goals, which she said are to protect speech and educate the public on all viewpoints, not just the preferred ones of any given group.
And Lichty indicated that the "episode is not finished" and the board could very well reverse its decision in another vote.
But Rees said he's disappointed because the Hawaii ACLU hadn't even approached Thomas yet and he regrets that all of the statements made about him in the meeting will now precede any invitation the group might extend in the future.
"I believe we should sit here as a group, we should apologize and say we were wrong and invite Thomas," he said. "It really is wrong-headed to treat people this way."