The Georgia Senate on Monday approved on a party-line vote a measure to place a monument honoring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on the Capitol grounds.
State Sen. Ben Watson, a Savannah Republican, urged his colleagues to honor the Pin Point native who has “served with distinction” as a justice. Watson said he lives about two miles from Pin Point.
State Sen. Jason Anavitarte, a Dallas Republican, sponsored Senate Bill 326, but Watson presented the bill on the floor because Thomas is from Watson’s district.
Watson touted Thomas, who grew up in poverty, went on to Yale Law School before being nominated to the Supreme Court and becoming a justice in 1991.
“He has not forgotten his home, he has not forgotten his state, he has not forgotten his family,” Watson said.
SB 326 would create a monument committee of three members each from the Georgia House and Senate who would be tasked with approving the design, acquisition and placement of the monument. No public money would be spent on the monument, which would be funded through private donations.
Democrats, who voted against the measure, said in addition to some of the controversial allegations in Thomas’ past, it wasn’t wise to erect a monument to someone who is still living and serving on the bench.
Democratic senators recalled the allegations of sexual harassment against Thomas during his confirmation hearings and a debunked claim that his wife, Ginni Thomas, helped organize the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
State Sen. Nikki Merritt, a Grayson Democrat, said that while much of “white America” touts Thomas, many Black Americans have taken issue with his opposition to affirmative action and his support for “gutting” Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which had required Georgia and some other states with histories of voter suppression and racial gerrymandering to gain federal approval before changing their voting laws.
“It’s not that we have a problem that he’s a conservative or that he’s a Republican. We think he’s a hypocrite and a traitor,” she said, drawing gasps from some in the chamber.
State Sen. Brian Strickland, a McDonough Republican, said honoring Thomas is about who he is as a man.
“The story of Justice Thomas is a Georgia story,” he said. “It’s not one Supreme Court decision he wrote on in 30 years up there, not allegations tossed at him at hearings 30 years ago, not something his wife may have said to someone a couple years ago,” Strickland said. “The story of Clarence Thomas is the story of someone who rose from being from a city that was named and founded after freed slaves.”
The bill now goes to the House for its consideration.