Thomas, Clarence
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Thomas, Clarence

Clarence Thomas

1948—

Supreme court justice, appeals court judge, federal official

Clarence Thomas was sworn in as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in November of 1991, following what was perhaps the greatest furor over such an appointment in modern history. A conservative jurist with experience in the education department under President Ronald Reagan, Thomas had also served as the assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights and headed the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, during which he had allegedly sexually harassed a staff member, Anita Hill. Hill's accusations surfaced only after Thomas's nomination to the nation's highest court by President George W. Bush; Hill was by this time a law professor. The Senate confirmation hearings that dealt with these charges had enormous political and social ramifications above and beyond Thomas's suitability for the Supreme Court.

Thomas's appointment was a watershed for the Bush administration, which needed to replace retiring black justice Thurgood Marshall. The choice of an African-American conservative effectively stymied Democratic opposition to Thomas, who suspended his lifelong criticism of racial politics long enough to call his confirmation hearings a "high-tech lynching." This remark is representative of the many contradictions embodied by this controversial figure. Indeed, Newsweek noted that "Thomas is an intense opponent of affirmative action, yet has benefited from it throughout his life…. The very reason he was named to succeed Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court is because of his race."

Thomas was born in 1948 in Pin Point, Georgia, a tiny coastal hamlet named for the plantation that once stood there. His mother, Leola, was eighteen at the time of his birth; his father, M. C. Thomas, left the family two years later. Leola, her two children—Clarence and his older sister Emma Mae—and her Aunt Annie Graham occupied what Newsweek described as "a one-room wooden house near the marshes. It had dirt floors and no plumbing or electricity." Their destitute life was struck by further misfortune five years after M. C. walked out on the family, ostensibly headed for Philadelphia: the house burned down, so the family moved near Leola's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Myers Anderson. Having in the meantime married a man who did not want to raise the children—there was now a third child, Myers, who went by the name Peanut—Leola agreed to let the Andersons care for the two boys and sent Emma Mae to live with Aunt Annie in Pin Point.

Raised by His Devout Catholic Grandfather

Myers Anderson exercised a huge influence on Clarence's life. A devout Catholic who created his own fuel oil business in Savannah in the 1950s, he provided the example of self-motivation in the face of segregation that would inspire his grandson. Through hard work and a refusal to submit to the poverty and degradation of menial work, he "did for himself," as one of his favorite expressions went. He fed and cared for Clarence and Peanut and paid for their education at St. Benedict the Moor, an all-black grammar school where white nuns exercised firm discipline. The racist vigilante group known as the Ku Klux Klan often threatened the nuns, who rode on the backs of buses with their students and demanded hard work and promptly completed assignments. Clarence's grandfather took him to a meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), of which Anderson was a member, and read the boy's grades aloud. "The most compassionate thing [our grandparents] did for us was to teach us to fend for ourselves and to do that in an openly hostile environment," Thomas noted in a 1987 speech before the Heritage Foundation, published in Policy Review in 1991.

Clarence performed duties as altar boy and crossing guard at St. Benedict's, and though not remembered by his teachers as an outstanding student, he excelled at sports. After school he and his brother helped their grandfather on his delivery rounds. Clarence's favorite retreat was a blacks-only library in Savannah—the Savannah public library was for whites—funded by the Carnegie family. His browsing there helped formulate his ambition: he would one day have the sophistication to understand magazines such as the New Yorker.

He graduated from St. Benedict's in 1962, spent two years at St. Pius X High School, and then transferred—at his grandfather's insistence—to a white Catholic boarding school called St. John Vianney Minor Seminary. Clarence did well in school, but experienced for the first time the hostility of racism. His schoolmates' derisive remarks came as a shock—his segregated youth had ironically provided some insulation from everyday racism—but he kept his composure. Following St. John's, Clarence went to Immaculate Conception Seminary in Conception, Missouri, to study for the priesthood. As one of only four blacks there, Thomas was again made acutely aware of the double standards of white Christian society. One incident, however, caused him to give up on the seminary for good: the voice of a fellow seminarian cheering the news that civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot in 1968. "I knew I couldn't stay in this so-called Christian environment," he remarked later.

Struggled with Race and Identity

In 1968 Thomas began his studies at Holy Cross, a Jesuit college in Worcester, Massachusetts. This period saw an intensification of Thomas's struggle with his identity, his background, and the politics of race. He joined the Black Student Union, a militant group on campus that succeeded in using its political and rhetorical energies to make some changes, including an all-black dormitory, more courses relevant to black students, and increased financial aid. The atmosphere of questioning and empowerment was exhilarating for Thomas, though unlike many of his contemporaries he never abandoned his earliest sources of strength: "Thomas still spoke the conservative maxims of his grandfather and the nuns far more often than the chic of the left," reported Newsweek. Though he adopted some of the language, style, and arguments of the radical Black Panther Party's leaders, he remained a skeptic and was often the sole dissenter among his revolutionary circle. This tendency would serve him well as he learned what he would later call "the loneliness of the black conservative."

At a Glance …

Born Clarence Thomas on June 23, 1948, in Pin Point, GA; son of M. C. Thomas and Leola Anderson; married Kathy Grace Ambush, 1971 (divorced, 1984); married Virginia Lamp, 1987; children: (with Ambush) Jamal; (legal guardian of) Mark Martin Jr. Education: Holy Cross College, Worcester, MA, 1971; Yale University Law School, JD, 1974.

Career: Held summer jobs in legal aid and at Hill, Jones, and Farrington (law firm), c. 1971-74; offices of Missouri Attorney General John Danforth, staff member, 1974-77; Monsanto Corporation, legal counsel, 1977-80; U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, assistant secretary, 1981-82; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, chairman, 1982-89; Federal Appeals Court, judge, 1990-91; U.S. Supreme Court justice, 1991—.

Memberships: Holy Cross College, Black Student Union, founder, 1971; advisory board of the Lincoln Review, member.

Addresses: Office—U.S. Supreme Court, 1 First St. NE, Washington, DC 20543-0001.

During his sophomore year, Thomas met Kathy Grace Ambush and began a relationship that would lead to their 1971 marriage. In 1973 their son, Jamal, was born. Thomas had registered for the draft in 1966, at age eighteen, but had a student deferment. When he graduated in 1971 and discovered that his number in the conscription lottery was low, he braced himself to being a likely candidate for military service in Vietnam. However, he failed his physical examination. He had applied to Yale, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania law schools—all of which had accepted him—and decided on Yale because of the financial support it offered him. Thomas was a beneficiary of Yale's new affirmative-action policy, which offered opportunities to minority students. Though he benefited from this policy, it raised in Thomas—perhaps for the first time—doubts about whether he had succeeded on his own merits. These doubts would trouble him throughout his career and would motivate a deep distrust of what conservatives like to call "entitlements" or "handouts."

Thus, he strained to demonstrate his qualifications, to prove that something other than his blackness had brought him into the Ivy League. While at Yale he held some summer jobs; he assisted a small legal-aid establishment, which brought him into contact with welfare cases, and he spent a summer at the law firm of Hill, Jones, and Farrington. In the latter job Thomas could exercise his skill at developing both sides of an argument. As a law student, he dedicated himself to areas of legal study less often associated with blacks—tax and corporate law—rather than civil rights. His eagerness to dissociate himself from the stereotypes that surrounded beneficiaries of affirmative action was a strong determining factor here. Yet, when he began to look for work as his graduation drew near, he found few law firms interested him. The pay they offered was demonstrably lower than what white graduates would have been offered, and they tended to assume Thomas wanted to do social rather than corporate law. Once again, he found himself pigeonholed by race.

Joined Staff of Missouri Attorney General

Rather than accept what he considered an insufficient salary from the firm where he'd done his summer work, Thomas accepted a position on the staff of John Danforth, attorney general of Missouri. Danforth had attended Yale himself and, as an Episcopal minister and Republican, he saw in Thomas a promising young conservative. Thomas worked hard under Danforth and specialized in tax law. He achieved a victory when he appealed a decision against the state regarding the governor's banning of personalized license plates, and won in a higher court. Danforth's office had thought the case unwinnable because a lot of wealthy people had these so-called vanity plates; Thomas felt it necessary to prove that the privileged few could not control the law.

Yet, Thomas himself sought status symbols; he bought a BMW automobile while working in Danforth's office, though he told fellow workers that a Mercedes-Benz was the car for a "gentleman" to drive. This affection for status symbols no doubt grew out of Thomas's fondness for the ideology of self-help. He took a large step in the direction of greater financial stability when Danforth left Missouri to take a Senate seat; Thomas landed a job as legal counsel for the Monsanto Corporation. There, as Time phrased it, he "shepherded pesticides through government registration."

Monsanto's chemical empire supported him comfortably until he decided to move on to Washington. He returned to Danforth's staff and worked on energy and environmental issues, but was at the same time struck by the work of a handful of black conservatives. The writings of right-wing African-American economists Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, as well as the African-American conservative journal, the Lincoln Review, had a galvanizing effect on Thomas. He joined the advisory board of the Review, which has created waves in the African-American community by taking some very unpopular—some would say reactionary—stands. The journal's editor, Jay Parker, argued on behalf of the government of South Africa, while the journal itself opposed a holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.; questioned the extent, if not the existence, of racial discrimination; and referred to abortion as a plot to "slaughter" blacks. Parker and Thomas chatted on the phone in 1980; the controversial editor would soon be looking for interested African-American conservatives to join the administration of President Ronald Reagan.

Accepted Posts with High Political Visibility

Thomas's first offer from Reagan's people was a position as a policy staffer on energy and environmental issues, but he turned this job down, accepting—in spite of his previous aversion to such matters—a place at the head of civil rights under the secretary of education. Ten months later, he was put in charge of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an agency charged with enforcing civil rights laws. Why Thomas accepted these jobs remains unclear, because they are the sort of classically "African-American" appointments he had resolutely avoided in the past. Some observers speculated that Thomas merely took the positions with the highest political visibility, whereas others suggested that his recent infatuation with ultraconservative African-American thinkers such as Sowell and Parker had awakened in him a new political enthusiasm and that he wished to tackle affirmative action and other issues head on.

In any case, Thomas's years at the EEOC were fraught with conflict. He was a demanding supervisor and often dealt with employees harshly. He allegedly settled petty scores in harsh ways, argued inconsistently on issues such as hiring quotas for minorities—he both opposed and supported them over the course of his tenure—and reportedly avoided prosecuting thousands of age discrimination cases. Although less doctrinaire than "the other Clarence"—Reagan's fiery Civil Rights Commission chair Clarence Pendleton, another conservative African American who alienated much of the civil rights community—Thomas made his self-help philosophy well known. He remarked to Lena Williams in a New York Times profile that "race-conscious remedies in this society are dangerous. You can't orchestrate society along racial lines or different lines by saying there should be 10 percent blacks, 15 percent Hispanics." He also made waves by remarking in 1984 that civil rights leaders just "bitch, bitch, bitch, moan and whine."

Despite the discontent he evoked from civil rights activists, Thomas was granted a second term at EEOC in 1984. He did not stand uniformly behind the administration's decisions, however. His was a dissenting voice—though reportedly not a very loud one—when the U.S. Department of Justice argued that religious institutions such as Bob Jones University, which practices various kinds of discrimination, should remain tax-exempt. "A fellow member of the administration said rather glibly that, in two days, the furor over Bob Jones would end," Thomas remarked in a 1987 speech. "I responded that we had sounded our death knell with that decision. Unfortunately, I was more right than he was."

Divorced and Remarried

It was a difficult period for Thomas, who had separated from Kathy in 1981; the two divorced in 1984, and Clarence retained custody of Jamal. The circumstances of the marriage and the divorce remain a well-guarded secret, and allegations of abuse made at the time returned to haunt Thomas during his confirmation hearings years later. Thomas became a stern taskmaster at home, pressuring Jamal to succeed at school just as Myers Anderson had pressed him in his own youth. In 1986 he met Virginia Lamp, a white fellow law school graduate active in conservative causes. The two fell in love and married in 1987. Virginia was a U.S. Department of Labor lawyer when Thomas was nominated for the Supreme Court.

Thomas's private regimen is as interesting a mix as his frequently contradictory public statements. He began lifting weights while at college and continues his body-building to this day, yet he also smokes cigars—not, some would say, the best habit for someone in weight training. Earning $71,000 a year under Reagan, Thomas was chauffeured around in a limousine that, according to Time, stopped at a Catholic church every morning so he could pray. Yet, despite his lifelong piety, he was accused by Hill of a fascination with pornography and bizarre sexual practices such as bestiality. He has long opposed affirmative action, but bases this opposition on a distrust of white institutions that he believes keep African Americans begging for jobs and other economic opportunities.

In a critical 1987 speech before the conservative Heritage Foundation, Thomas articulated his feelings about the perils of "entitlement" programs, job quotas, and—most notoriously—welfare. He had some years earlier shocked listeners by criticizing his sister for her dependency on welfare, though, according to Time's Jack E. White, "she was not getting welfare checks when he singled her out but [was] working double shifts at a nursing home for slightly more than $2 an hour." But in this Heritage Foundation speech, he articulated more specifically his concern about the "welfare mentality." Though Reagan and others on the right had rankled African Americans and civil rights proponents with derisive references to "welfare queens," Thomas's criticisms may have been harder for his opponents to dismiss—or so the administration hoped.

Embraced Vision of African-American Conservatism

The Heritage Foundation speech also outlined Thomas's plan for bringing more African Americans into the ranks of conservatism. "I am of the view that black Americans will move inexorably and naturally toward conservatism when we stop discouraging them; when they are treated as a diverse group with differing interests; and when conservatives stand up for what they believe in rather than stand against blacks," he proclaimed. He went on to suggest that the "unnecessarily negative" approach of the Reagan administration had been more alienating than its political philosophy toward welfare and affirmative action. Many critics have attacked Thomas for this ardent individualism. Bruce Shapiro represented many of Thomas's opponents when he wrote in the Nation of Thomas's "far-reaching commitment to unravel the fabric of community and social responsibility."

Perhaps the most important strand of the Heritage Foundation speech was Thomas's invocation of natural law. This discussion provided the most substantial evidence of his judicial philosophy, and was particularly worrying to civil rights advocates and many people concerned about the fundamental separation of church and state. The alarm of these constituencies was magnified by Thomas's citing of Heritage trustee Lewis Lehrman's argument on behalf of the rights of the fetus as grounded in the Declaration of Independence as "a splendid example of applying natural law." In brief, natural law depends on applying a perception of God-given rights and rules—as, indeed, the Declaration and other founding documents of the American republic do, at least rhetorically—to human law. "Without such a notion of natural law," Thomas claimed in his speech, "the entire American political tradition, from Washington to Lincoln, from Jefferson to Martin Luther King, would be unintelligible." Thus, against what he perceived as the abstractions and inhumanity of the welfare state, he promoted a philosophy that "establishes our inherent equality as a God-given right." Yet, many critics have expressed grave reservations about the implications of such a belief.

The Republican Party, however, which saw potential in Thomas early on, began to see him as a good prospect for the nation's highest court. President Bush nominated him to the federal appeals court in 1990, and he was confirmed by the Senate in March of that year. The appeals court is a common stop on the route to the Supreme Court, and this was a route in which Thomas had expressed no uncertain interest. In 1991 Bush nominated him for the Supreme Court. Still, his performance on the appeals court wasn't exactly impressive. "As Supreme Court nominees go," reported Margaret Carlson in a 1991 Time profile, "Thomas has little judicial experience. He is not a brilliant legal scholar, a weighty thinker, or even the author of numerous opinions." Shapiro was more blunt in the Nation, by saying that Thomas was "among the more scantily qualified Supreme Court candidates in recent memory."

Supreme Court Nomination Created Controversy

The stage was set for an ideological battle over Thomas's appointment even before Hill went public with her accusations. The NAACP, after lengthy discussion and much internal upheaval, voted to oppose Thomas's confirmation. The chairman of the organization, William F. Gibson, read a statement featuring a seven-point argument for opposing Thomas. This statement, which was printed in its entirety in Crisis, reasoned that "Judge Clarence Thomas's judicial philosophy is simply inconsistent with the historical positions taken by the NAACP." The criticisms centered on Thomas's performance at the EEOC and what Gibson characterized as the judge's "reactionary philosophical approach to a number of critical issues, not the least of which is affirmative action." Oddly enough, the NAACP stressed the importance of looking past race in this instance—though it believes fervently in the importance of having African Americans on the Supreme Court—to focus on Thomas's record. Thus, an organization traditionally affiliated with the "entitlement" sensibility Thomas so disliked had actually judged him on his merits. It found him wanting. Similarly, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) voted 20-1 to oppose Thomas's confirmation. The lone dissenter was also the CBC's only Republican.

Jesse Jackson, perhaps the most vocal black activist in the United States, was particularly critical of Thomas. In These Times quoted Jackson's remarks to a Chicago meeting of his organization, Operation PUSH: "He is a prime beneficiary of our [civil rights activists'] work. He got public accommodations, the right to vote, open housing because of civil rights marches and activism; yet he stood on our shoulders and kicked us in the head." John B. Judis, writing for In These Times, asserted that Thomas's praise for Lehrman's antiabortion article "puts him on the fanatic fringes of the abortion debate and could prove politically embarrassing to Republicans in 1992." Judis remarked on Thomas's celebration of former National Security Aide Oliver North—who had lied to Congress about his involvement in the famed Iran-Contra scandal—and concluded a lengthy examination of Thomas's legal thinking by declaring simply "that Clarence Thomas is not fit to be a Supreme Court justice."

Bush expressed his support for Thomas largely on the basis of the judge's character. His life story, a real-world example of the conservative ideal, appeared in virtually every endorsement. Bush made no mention of Thomas's judicial temperament, nor of his decisions on the appeals court; it was clear that this appointment was a symbolic one. Strangely enough, Thomas's patron had chosen him because he was a successful African-American man. Whether Thomas privately considered himself a beneficiary of a White House "quota" remains unknown. In any case, Thomas's personal odyssey from Pin Point to the pinnacle of Washington, D.C., success, or some version of that odyssey, would always serve as an endorsement. Lena Williams's New York Times article concluded by referring to Thomas's "difficult childhood and his ability to succeed against the odds," an angle that the Bush administration would exploit to the utmost in its presentation of Thomas the judicial candidate.

Allegations of Sexual Harassment Surfaced

The Senate's confirmation hearings appeared to be moving along smoothly when Hill's allegations were made public. On October 8, Hill—a professor at the University of Oklahoma Law School—held a press conference, in which she made public the main points of the testimony she had previously given the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI report had been reviewed by the confirmation committee but not made public, and on the day of Hill's press conference the Thomas vote was scheduled to move to the Senate floor. A wave of protest by women's groups and other activists led the committee, headed by Delaware's Joseph Biden, a Democrat, to review Hill's charges. Her testimony accused Thomas of badgering her for dates while she worked with him, and of accosting her with stories of pornographic film scenes and his own sexual prowess. The accusations fit the paradigm of sexual harassment in the workplace: the male superior uses sexual banter and other discomfiting tactics as a means of exercising power over a female underling. Hill claimed that Thomas's constant harassment made it difficult for her to do her job, and even caused her anxiety to manifest itself in the form of physical distress.

The televised hearings, during which Hill, Thomas, and several witnesses on both sides testified about the allegations, were among the most widely viewed political events in television history. Thomas denied any wrongdoing, but stopped short of calling Hill a liar. Most of Thomas's political allies on the committee—Republican senators Strom Thurmond, Arlen Specter, Alan Simpson, and Orrin Hatch—interrogated Hill mercilessly, and suggested that Hill was either being cynically manipulated by liberals or was lying outright. Spy magazine reported that numerous young researchers had been recruited by the White House staff to find embarrassing or otherwise damaging disclosures about Hill and her testimony. The partisan battle over the confirmation became so vicious that following the vote considerable press attention was devoted to Congress's political game-playing and the painful divisions it left among various constituencies.

Thomas himself remarked during the course of the televised hearings that the process had been a harrowing personal ordeal for him and his wife. Indeed, he claimed, he would have preferred "an assassin's bullet to this kind of living hell," and he would have withdrawn from consideration earlier had he known what lay ahead. Lewis Lapham's column in Harper's the following month attacked Thomas as a hypocrite: "He had the gall to present himself as a victim, a man who had been forced to endure the unspeakable agony of sitting comfortably in a chair for two weeks and being asked a series of facile questions to which he gave equally facile answers." Lapham asserted that Thomas displayed "contempt for the entire apparatus of the American idea—for Congress, for the press, for freedom of expression, for the uses of democratic government, for any rules other than his own."

Confirmation Followed Heated Hearings

Many African Americans had supported Thomas and followed the Republicans' theory that Hill was part of a campaign to smear him. Many women who opposed Thomas and believed Hill vowed to defeat Thomas's backers in the next elections. Another ramification of the Hill-Thomas debacle was the major attention suddenly afforded the previously neglected question of sexual harassment; the phrase entered the mainstream political vocabulary almost overnight. In any event, the verdict—in the minds of the committee and in the press—was that both witnesses were credible and that determining the truth of what had taken place nearly a decade before was nearly impossible. The president urged Congress to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt, arguing that he was innocent until proven guilty. Others argued that Thomas was not on trial for harassing Hill, and that any doubt was sufficient to disqualify him. In the end, Thomas was confirmed by a 52-48 margin. To those who complained about the confirmation hearings' focus on these "personal" matters, the New Republic replied that "the Bush administration promoted Mr. Thomas's nomination as a matter of character, not of professional qualifications; and it has reaped a bitter reward."

Following the confirmation, Virginia Thomas told her story to People, recounting the tension of the confirmation fight and speculating that Hill was in love with Thomas. She referred to the struggle to get Thomas confirmed as "Good versus Evil." Meanwhile, Alisa Solomon of the Village Voice argued that Hill was attacked for showing the same qualities for which Thomas was celebrated: her ability to argue, her aggressiveness, and her self-sufficiency. Thomas, Solomon wrote, "seems unable to see women as a class, and therefore unable to recognize the importance of rulings that affect us."

Thomas had made it to the top, and his defiant individual style and renegade opinions had left him with many admirers and detractors. The question on most observers' minds was this: Would Thomas be the gadfly on a conservative court, or would he fall in line with its prevailing right-leaning tendencies? His experience before his confirmation guaranteed that he would be watched just as closely after he donned the robes.

Judicial Decision Brought Criticism

During the first few years after his appointment to the Supreme Court, Thomas remained quiet and out of the limelight that had shone on him for most of his career. He did not ask questions during oral arguments, he wrote few decisions or dissension to these decisions, and most often followed the lead of other conservative justices such as Sandra Day O'Conner and Antonin Scalia. Then, starting in 1994, Thomas came into his own as a justice as he became the deciding vote in numerous controversial cases, many dealing with issues of race and free speech. One specific case that many minorities took to heart was Adarand Constructors Inc. v. Pena, where a white owner of a construction company sued the state of Colorado for unfair hiring practices due to affirmative action. Randy Pech, the plaintiff in the case, argued that the state had awarded an Hispanic-owned company the job of redoing highways based purely on the fact that the company was Hispanic owned and run. Pech contended that he was the victim of reverse-racism and that this was not the purpose of the affirmative action program. The issue was contested heavily both within the court as well as in the media, where many people felt that if Pech won his case that it would be the beginning of the deconstruction of the affirmative action program that greatly helped many minorities secure jobs and education. When the final decision came down, in favor of Pech by one vote, 5-4, it was discovered that Thomas had voted in favor of the majority.

Another example of Thomas's controversial decision making came from the case Missouri v. Jenkins. In this case, the state of Missouri was suing a district judge for forcing it to "waste" money to bring more white students into predominately black city schools that were receiving fewer funds from their community than suburban schools that were mainly made up of white students. Once again, the case was heavily disputed in the Court; in the end, the decision came out in favor of the plaintiff, with the court split 5-4. Many critics of the decision felt that this was a major blow to the idea that desegregation, whether natural or forced, would bring equality to educational institutions, but Thomas shot back with his own views, which were summed up later in Insight on the News magazine: "He added that a school's majority black status is not a constitutional violation in and of itself and wondered why there was an assumption that ‘anything that is predominantly black must be inferior.’"

Both of these decisions outraged many in the African-American community, who felt that Thomas had turned into an "Uncle Tom," completely controlled by the conservative right who traditionally downplayed the needs of minorities. Yet, Thomas felt that it was his job not to play favorites to any one community, but instead to show impartiality in his decisions and to try and follow the letter of the law. As he told Jet magazine, "I cannot do to White people what an elite group of Whites did to Black people, because if I do, I am just as bad as they are. I can't break from … law just because they did. If they were wrong in doing that [using law to discriminate] to us, then I am wrong in doing it to them."

Gained Respect Along with Criticism

Since 1994, Thomas has continued to make decisions that were not popular in the African-American community. However, as he remained constant in his decisions, he also gained the respect of many people in the field who assumed the worst of him after the Anita Hill hearings. Ronald Rotunda, a professor at the University of Illinois said to the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, "He thinks independently and it's unfair to think of him as a knee-jerk conservative." However, many people still feel that Thomas has somehow "betrayed" the needs of minorities, specifically those of the African-American community. Yet, as Thomas told Newsweek, "It pains me more deeply than any of you can imagine, to be perceived by so many members of my race as doing them harm…. All the sacrifices and all the long hours of preparation were to help not to hurt."

One area in which Thomas receives little criticism in is his family life. It is clear that Thomas is devoted to his wife and to fostering a healthy relationship. Even more evident is Thomas's love for his extended family. In 1997 he took custody of his grandnephew, Mark Martin Jr., to give him the opportunity to succeed, something he would not have received with his parents. The American Lawyer explained the circumstances: "Mark Sr., Thomas's nephew, had been in prison on cocaine-trafficking charges. And Mark Jr.'s mother Susan was struggling with her own problems, raising four children, including young Mark Jr., on her own. Thomas believed that the boy would face lifelong trouble if he were not removed from his environment soon, and the parents agreed." According to a friend in the same American Laywer article, "He was paying back his own grandfather by taking care of Mark."

An Ebony magazine article stated that "Thomas's struggle against the tradition of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and his exile from mainstream Black America is one of the strangest stories of our time." Yet, many critics wondered if the controversy around his decisions would fade as time went by and he remained a steady advocate for more conservative justice. Apparently, this was not the case. By 2002, institutions in the African-American community had begun to question his methods and protested his appointment to the highest court in the nation. Five professors at the University of North Carolina School of Law at Chapel Hill boycotted a visit that was to be given by Thomas to allow students to discuss and interact with the justice. The New Jersey Law Journal noted the reason the protestors gave was that "for many people who hold legitimate expectations for racial equality and social justice, Justice Thomas personifies the cruel irony of the fireboat burning and sinking … his visit adds insult to injury." Thomas, however, takes comments such as these in stride, for as he told Newsweek, he has the "right to think for myself." He went on to say that he refused "to have my ideas assigned to me as though I was an intellectual slave because I'm black."

In June of 2003 Thomas dissented from the Supreme Court's decision to uphold affirmative action, and called the policy a "cruel farce" that leaves African Americans with a lifelong stigma suggesting that they only succeed because of their skin color. The Court ruling addressed two separate cased concerning admissions policies at the University of Michigan undergraduate and law schools. In his dissenting opinion, Thomas criticized the Court for maintaining discrimination under the guise of aiding minority students. "The law school tantalizes unprepared students with the promise of a University of Michigan degree and all of the opportunities that it offers," Thomas said in his written opinion. "These overmatched students take the bait, only to find that they cannot succeed in the cauldron of competition."

Policies at the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor College of Law were upheld by a vote of 5-4 as being consistent with the goal of maintaining student body diversity, whereas policies at the undergraduate college, which award a blanket point value (20 out of 150 points) to minority applicants, was found to be more problematic. The Michigan case was the first time that the Supreme Court ruled on an affirmative action case since the 1978 case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, in which the Court struck down the use of quota systems in promoting minority students.

In October of 2007 Thomas published his autobiography My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir, in which he wrote about his upbringing with his grandfather and the successes and struggles of his early life. Critical reception of the book was sharply split along ideological lines. Some criticized Thomas for failing to address his failures and successes as a justice, whereas others lauded him for his honest and telling accounts of his childhood and the hardships he was forced to overcome in succeeding to the Supreme Court. Though his biography revealed little regarding the details of the Anita Hill controversy, Thomas wrote about the turmoil that the episode caused in his life and in the lives of his family and friends.

Even though My Grandfather's Son provided an inside look at Thomas's life, for some critics there remain questions about Thomas's judicial performance. In an interview with Newsweek Online, Thomas said about his years on the bench and his general approach to his position, "I made a decision when I first got here: I will only do what is necessary to discharge the responsibilities under my oath. I will not do things for histrionics. I will not do things so people will think well of me. The job is important, it's not about me." Despite statements to the contrary, some critics believe that Thomas's judicial positions are governed more by his mentors and leaders in the conservative community than by his personal duty. In interviews, Thomas expressed the hope that his book and stories of his upbringing would shed light on his decision-making process, showing that his role as a justice is a product of his upbringing and experience and not with the overall trend of the conservative community. "I assume people will say that I am conservative," Thomas said to Newsweek, "But the reason I wrote the book about my grandfather is that my views are consistent with his."

Selected writings

My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir, Harper, 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

American Lawyer, August 2001, p. 76.

American Spectator, October 1991.

Crisis, August/September 1991.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), June 26, 2003.

Economist, October 4, 2007.

Harper's, December 1991.

In These Times, July 24, 1991; August 7, 1991; October 23, 1991.

Insight on the News, September 4, 1995, pp. 8-10.

Jet, November 28, 1994, p. 22; September 11, 1995, p. 8.

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, July 2, 1995.

M2 Best Books, January 10, 2003.

Nation, September 23, 1991; October 14, 1991; October 28, 1991; November 4, 1991; November 11, 1991.

New Jersey Law Journal March 18, 2002, pp. 6-7.

New Republic, October 28, 1991.

Newsweek, September 16, 1991; October 21, 1991; October 28, 1991; August 10, 1998, p. 53; October 14, 2007.

New York Times, February 8, 1987; October 8, 1991; June 24, 2003; June 25, 2003.

People, October 28, 1991; November 11, 1991.

Policy Review, Fall 1991.

Spy, December 1991.

Time, September 16, 1991; October 28, 1991.

U.S. News & World Report, October 21, 1991.

Village Voice, October 22, 1991.

Online

"Clarence Thomas: The Justice Nobody Knows," 60 Minutes,http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/09/27/60minutes/main3305443.shtml (accessed December 20, 2007).

Weymouth, Lally, "A Justice's Candid Opinions," Newsweek Online,http://www.newsweek.com/id/43358/output/print (accessed December 20, 2007).

—Simon Glickman, Ralph G. Zerbonia,
and Micah L. Issit

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"Thomas, Clarence." Contemporary Black Biography. 2008. Retrieved June 30, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3099700056.html

Thomas, Clarence 1948–

Clarence Thomas 1948

Supreme Court Justice

At a Glance

Raised By His Devout Catholic Grandfather

Struggles With Race and identity Intensified

Joined Staff of Missouri Attorney General

Accepted Posts With High Politicai Visibility

Divorced and Remarried

Embraced Vision of Black Conservatism

Supreme Court Nomination Created Controversy

Allegations of Sexual Harassment Surfaced

Confirmation Followed Heated Hearings

Judicial Decision Brought Criticism

Gained Respect Along With Criticism

Sources

Clarence Thomas was sworn in as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in November of 1991, following perhaps the greatest furor over such an appointment in modern history. A conservative jurist with experience in the education department under President Ronald Reagan, Thomas had also headed the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission and, while there, allegedly sexually harassed a staff member, Anita Hill. Hills accusations surfaced only after Thomass nomination to the nations highest court by President George Bush; Hill was by this time a law professor. The Senate confirmation hearings that dealt with these charges had enormous political and social ramifications above and beyond Thomass suitability for the Supreme Court. The judges appointment was a watershed for the Bush administration, which needed to replace retiring black justice Thurgood Marshall. The choice of a black conservative effectively stymied Democratic opposition to Thomas, who suspended his lifelong criticism of racial politics long enough to call his confirmation hearings a high-tech lynching. That remark is representative of the many contradictions embodied by this controversial figure. Indeed, Newsweek noted that Thomas is an intense opponent of affirmative action, yet has benefited from it throughout his life. the very reason he was named to succeed Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court is because of his race.

Thomas was born in 1948 in Pin Point, Georgia, a tiny coastal hamlet named for the plantation that once stood there. His mother, Leola, was 18 at the time of his birth; his father M. C. Thomas left the family two years later. Leola, her two childrenClarence and his older sister Emma Maeand her Aunt Annie Graham occupied what Newsweek described as a one-room wooden house near the marshes. It had dirt floors and no plumbing or electricity. Their destitute life was struck by further misfortune five years after M. C. walked out on the family, ostensibly headed for Philadelphia: the house burned down, so the family moved near Leolas parents, Mr. and Mrs. Myers Anderson. Having in the meantime married a man who didnt want to raise the childrenthere was now a third child, Myers, who went by the name PeanutLeola agreed to let the Andersons care for the two boys and sent Emma Mae to live with Aunt Annie in Pin Point.

At a Glance

Born on June 23,1948, in Pin Point, GA; son of M. C. and Leola (Anderson) Thomas; married Kathy Grace Ambush, 1971 (divorced, 1984); married Virginia Lamp, 1987; children: (first marriage) Jamal; (legal guardian of) Mark Martin Jr. Education: Holy Cross College, Worcester, MA, 1971; Yale University Law School, JD, 1974. Politics: Republican. Religion: Born Baptist, raised Catholic.

Career: Held summer jobs in legal aid and at Hill, Jones & Farrington (law firm), c. 1971-74; offices of Missouri Attorney General John Danforth, staff member, 1974-77; Monsanto Corporation, St. Louis, MO, legal counsel, 1977-80; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, director, 1980-89; Federal Appeals Court, judge, 1990-91; Supreme Court Justice, 1991-.

Membership: Black Student Union, Holy Cross College, founder, 1971; advisory board of the Lincoln Review.

Address: Office Supreme Court Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, 1 1st St NE, Washington, DC, 20543-0001.

Raised By His Devout Catholic Grandfather

Myers Anderson exercised a huge influence on Clarences life. A devout Catholic who created his own fuel oil business in Savannah in the 1950s, he provided the example of self-motivation in the face of segregation that would inspire his grandson. Through hard work and a refusal to submit to the poverty and degradation of menial work, he did for himself, as one of his favorite expressions went. He fed and cared for Clarence and Peanut and paid for their education at St. Benedict the Moor; an all-black grammar school where white nuns exercised firm discipline. The racist vigilante group known as the Ku Klux Klan often threatened the nuns, who rode on the backs of buses with their students and demanded hard work and promptly completed assignments. Clarences grandfather took him to a meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), of which Anderson was a member, and read the boys grades aloud. The most compassionate thing [our grandparents] did for us was to teach us to fend for ourselves and to do that in an openly hostile environment, Thomas noted in a 1987 speech before the Heritage Foundation, published in Policy Review in 1991.

Clarence performed duties as altar boy and crossing guard at St. Benedicts, and though not remembered by his teachers as an outstanding student, he excelled at sports. After school he and his brother helped their grandfather on his delivery rounds. Clarences favorite retreat was a blacks-only library in Savannahthe Savannah public library was for whitesfunded by the Carnegie family. His browsing there helped to formulate his ambition: He would one day have the sophistication to understand magazines like the New Yorker.

He graduated from St. Benedicts in 1962, spent two years at St. Pius X High School, and then transferredat his grandfathers insistenceto a white Catholic boarding school called St. John Vianney Minor Seminary. Clarence did well in school, but experienced for the first time the hostility of racism. His schoolmates derisive remarks came as a shockhis segregated youth had ironically provided some insulation from everyday racismbut he kept his composure. Following St. Johns, Clarence went to Immaculate Conception Seminary in Conception, Missouri, to study for the priesthood. As one of only four blacks there, Thomas was again made acutely aware of the double standards of white Christian society. One incident, however, caused him to give up on the seminary for good: the voice of a fellow seminarian cheering the news that black civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., had been shot in 1968. I knew I couldnt stay in this so-called Christian environment, he remarked later.

Struggles With Race and identity Intensified

In 1968 Thomas began his studies at Holy Cross, a Jesuit college in Worcester, Massachusetts. This period saw an intensification of Thomass struggle with his identity, his background, and the politics of race. He joined the Black Student Union, a militant group on campus that succeeded in using its political and rhetorical energies to make some changes, including an all-black dormitory, more courses relevant to black students, and increased financial aid. The atmosphere of questioning and empowerment was exhilarating for Thomas, though unlike many of his contemporaries he never abandoned his earliest sources of strength: Thomas still spoke the conservative maxims of his grandfather and the nuns far more often than the chic of the left, reported Newsweek. Though he adopted some of the language, style, and arguments of the radical Black Panther Partys leaders, he remained a skeptic and was often the sole dissenter among his revolutionary circle. This tendency would serve him well as he learned what he would later call the loneliness of the black conservative.

During his sophomore year Thomas met Kathy Grace Ambush and began a relationship that would lead to their 1971 marriage. In 1973 their son, Jamal, was born. Thomas had registered for the draft in 1966, at age 18, but had a student deferment; when he graduated in 1971, and his number in the conscription lottery was low, he seemed a likely candidate for military service in Vietnam. However, he failed his physical examination. He had applied to Yale, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania law schoolsall of which had accepted himand decided on Yale because of the financial support it offered him. Thomas was a beneficiary of Yales new affirmative-action policy, which offered opportunities to minority students. Though he benefited from this policy, it raised in Thomasperhaps for the first timedoubts about whether he had succeeded on his own merits. These doubts would trouble him throughout his career and would motivate a deep distrust of what conservatives like to call entitlements or handouts.

Thus he strained to demonstrate his qualifications, to prove that something other than his blackness had brought him into the Ivy League. While at Yale he held some summer jobs; he assisted a small legal-aid establishment, which brought him into contact with welfare cases, and spent a summer at the law firm of Hill, Jones & Farrington. In the latter job Thomas could exercise his skill at developing both sides of an argument. As a law student, Thomas dedicated himself to areas of legal study less often associated with blackstax and corporate lawrather than civil rights. His eagerness to dissociate himself from the stereotypes that surrounded beneficiaries of affirmative action was a strong determining factor here. Yet when he began to look for work as his graduation drew near, he found few law firms interested him. The pay they offered was demonstrably lower than what white graduates would have been offered, and they tended to assume Thomas wanted to do social rather than corporate law. Once again, he found himself pigeonholed by race.

Joined Staff of Missouri Attorney General

Rather than accept what he considered an insufficient salary from the firm where hed done his summer work, Thomas accepted a position on the staff of John Danforth, attorney general of Missouri. Danforth had attended Yale himself and, as an Episcopal minister and Republican, he saw in Thomas a promising young conservative. Thomas worked hard under Danforth, and specialized in tax law. He achieved a victory when he appealed a decision against the state regarding the governors banning of personalized license plates, and won in a higher court. Danforths office had thought the case unwinnable since a lot of wealthy people had these so-called vanity plates; Thomas felt it necessary to prove that the privileged few couldnt control the law.

Yet Thomas himself sought status symbols; he bought a BMW automobile while working in Danforths office, though he told fellow workers that a Mercedes-Benz was the car for a gentleman to drive. This affection for status symbols no doubt grew out of Thomass fondness for the ideology of self-help. He took a large step in the direction of greater financial stability when Danforth left Missouri to take a Senate seat; Thomas landed a job as legal counsel for the Monsanto Corporation. There, as Time phrased it, he shepherded pesticides through government registration.

Monsantos chemical empire supported him comfortably until he decided to move on to Washington. He returned to Danforths staff and worked on energy and environmental issues, but was at the same time struck by the work of a handful of black conservatives. The writings of right-wing black economists Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, as well as the black conservative journal, the Lincoln Review, had a galvanizing effect on Thomas. He joined the advisory board of the Review, which has created waves in the black community by taking some very unpopularsome would say reactionarystands. The journals editor, Jay Parker, argued on behalf of the government of South Africa, while the journal itself opposed a holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr.; questioned the extent, if not the existence, of racial discrimination; and referred to abortion as a plot to slaughter blacks. Parker and Thomas chatted on the phone in 1980; the controversial editor would soon be looking for interested black conservatives to join the administration of President Ronald Reagan.

Accepted Posts With High Politicai Visibility

Thomass first offer from Reagans people was a position as a policy staffer on energy and environmental issues, but he turned this job down, acceptingin spite of his previous aversion to such mattersa place at the head of civil rights under the secretary of education. Ten months later he was put in charge of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an agency charged with enforcing civil rights laws. Why Thomas accepted these jobs remains unclear, since they are the sort of classically black appointments he had resolutely avoided in the past. Some observers have speculated that Thomas merely took the positions with the highest political visibility, while others suggested that his recent infatuation with ultraconservative black thinkers like Sowell and Parker had awakened in him a new political enthusiasm, and that he wished to tackle affirmative action and other issues head on.

In any case, Thomass years at EEOC were fraught with conflict. He was a demanding supervisor, and often dealt with employees harshly. He allegedly settled petty scores in harsh ways, argued inconsistently on issues like hiring quotas for minoritieshe both opposed and supported them over the course of his tenureand reportedly avoided prosecuting thousands of age discrimination cases. Although less doctrinaire than the other ClarenceReagans fiery Civil Rights Commission chair Clarence Pendleton, another conservative black who alienated much of the civil rights communityThomas made his self-help philosophy well known. He remarked to Lena Williams in a New York Times profile that race-conscious remedies in this society are dangerous. You cant orchestrate society along racial lines or different lines by saying there should be 10 percent blacks, 15 percent Hispanics. He also made waves by remarking in 1984 that civil rights leaders just bitch, bitch, bitch, moan and whine.

Despite the discontent he evoked from civil rights activists, Thomas was granted a second term at EEOC in 1984. He did not stand uniformly behind the administrations decisions, however. His was a dissenting voicethough reportedly not a very loud onewhen the Justice Department argued that religious institutions like Bob Jones University, which practices various kinds of discrimination, should remain tax-exempt. A fellow member of the administration said rather glibly that, in two days, the furor over Bob Jones would end, Thomas remarked in a 1987 speech. I responded that we had sounded our death knell with that decision. Unfortunately, I was more right than he was.

Divorced and Remarried

It was a difficult period for Thomas, who had separated from Kathy in 1981; the two divorced in 1984, and Clarence retained custody of Jamal. The circumstances of the marriage and the divorce remain a well-guarded secret, and allegations of abuse made at the time returned to haunt Thomas during his confirmation hearings years later. Thomas became a stern taskmaster at home, pressuring Jamal to succeed at school just as Myers Anderson had pressed him in his own youth. In 1986 he met Virginia Lamp, a white fellow law school graduate active in conservative causes. The two fell in love and married in 1987. Virginia was a Labor Department lawyer when Thomas was nominated for the Supreme Court.

Thomass private regimen is as interesting a mix as his frequently contradictory public statements. He began lifting weights while at college and continues his bodybuilding to this day, yet he also smokes cigarsnot, some would say, the best habit for someone in weight training. Earning $71,000 a year under Reagan, Thomas was chauffeured around in a limousine which, according to Time, stopped at a Catholic church every morning so he could pray. Yet despite his lifelong piety he was accused by Anita Hill of a fascination with pornography and bizarre sexual practices such as bestiality. He has long opposed affirmative action, but bases this distrust on a distrust of white institutions which he believes keep blacks begging for jobs and other economic opportunities.

In a critical 1987 speech before the conservative Heritage Foundation, Thomas articulated his feelings about the perils of entitlement programs, job quotas, andmost notoriouslywelfare. He had some years earlier shocked listeners by criticizing his sister for her dependency on welfare, though, according to Times Jack E. White she was not getting welfare checks when he singled her out but [was] working double shifts at a nursing home for slightly more than $2 an hour. But in this Heritage Foundation speech he articulated more specifically his concern about the welfare mentality. Though Reagan and others on the right had rankled blacks and civil rights proponents with derisive references to welfare queens, Thomass criticisms may have been harder for his opponents to dismissor so the administration hoped.

Embraced Vision of Black Conservatism

The Heritage Foundation speech also outlined Thomass plan for bringing more blacks into the ranks of conservatism. I am of the view that black Americans will move inexorably and naturally toward conservatism when we stop discouraging them; when they are treated as a diverse group with differing interests; and when conservatives stand up for what they believe in rather than stand against blacks, he proclaimed. He went on to suggest that the unnecessarily negative approach of the Reagan administration had been more alienating than its political philosophy toward welfare and affirmative action. Many critics have attacked Thomas for this ardent individualism. Bruce Shapiro represented many of Thomass opponents when he wrote in The Nation of Thomass far-reaching commitment to unravel the fabric of community and social responsibility.

Perhaps the most important strand of the Heritage Foundation speech was Thomass invocation of natural law. This discussion provided the most substantial evidence of his judicial philosophy, and was particularly worrying to civil rights advocates and many people concerned about the fundamental separation of Church and State. The alarm of these constituencies was magnified by Thomass citing of Heritage trustee Lewis Lehrmans argument on behalf of the rights of the fetus as grounded in the Declaration of Independence as a splendid example of applying natural law. In brief, natural law depends on applying a perception of God-given rights and rulesas, indeed, the Declaration and other founding documents of the American republic do, at least rhetoricallyto human law. Without such a notion of natural law, Thomas claimed in his speech, the entire American political tradition, from Washington to Lincoln, from Jefferson to Martin Luther King, would be unintelligible. Thus against what he perceives as the abstractions and inhumanity of the welfare state, he promotes a philosophy that establishes our inherent equality as a God-given right. Yet many critics have expressed grave reservations about the implications of such a belief.

The Republican party, however, which saw potential in Thomas early on, began to see him as a good prospect for the nations highest court. President Bush nominated him to the federal appeals court in 1990, and he was confirmed by the Senate in March of that year. The appeals court is a common stop on the route to the Supreme Court, and this was a route in which Thomas had expressed no uncertain interest. Bush nominated him in 1991. Still, his performance on the appeals court wasnt exactly impressive. As Supreme Court nominees go, reported Margaret Carlson in a 1991 Time profile, Thomas has little judicial experience. He is not a brilliant legal scholar, a weighty thinker, or even the author of numerous opinions. Bruce Shapiro was more blunt in the Nation, calling the judge among the more scantily qualified Supreme Court candidates in recent memory.

Supreme Court Nomination Created Controversy

The stage was set for an ideological battle over Thomass appointment even before Anita Hill went public with her accusations. The NAACP, after lengthy discussion and much internal upheaval, voted to oppose Thomass confirmation. The chairman of the organization, William F. Gibson, read a statement featuring a seven-point argument for opposing Thomas. This statement, which was printed in its entirety in Crisis, reasoned that Judge Clarence Thomass judicial philosophy is simply inconsistent with the historical positions taken by the NAACP. The criticisms centered on Thomass performance at the EEOC and what Gibson characterized as the judges reactionary philosophical approach to a number of critical issues, not the least of which is affirmative action. Oddly enough, the NAACP stressed the importance of looking past race in this instancethough it believes fervently in the importance of having African Americans on the Supreme Courtto focus on Thomass record. Thus an organization traditionally affiliated with the entitlement sensibility Thomas so disliked had actually judged him on his merits. It found him wanting. Similarly, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) voted 20-1 to oppose Thomass confirmation. The lone dissenter was also the CBCs only Republican.

Jesse Jackson, perhaps the most vocal black activist in the United States, was particularly critical of Thomas. In These Times quoted Jacksons remarks to a Chicago meeting of his organization, Operation PUSH: He is a prime beneficiary of our [civil rights activists] work. He got public accommodations, the right to vote, open housing because of civil rights marches and activism; yet he stood on our shoulders and kicked us in the head. John B. Judis, writing for In These Times, asserted that Thomass praise for Lehrmans antiabortion article puts him on the fanatic fringes of the abortion debate and could prove politically embarrassing to Republicans in 1992. Judis remarked on Thomass celebration of former National Security Aide Oliver Northwho had lied to Congress about his involvement in the famed Iran/Contra scandaland concluded a lengthy examination of Thomass legal thinking by declaring simply that Clarence Thomas is not fit to be a Supreme Court justice.

George Bush expressed his support for Thomas largely on the basis of the judges character. His life story, a real-world example of the conservative ideal, appeared in virtually every endorsement. Bush made no mention of Thomass judicial temperament, nor of his decisions on the appeals court; it was clear that this appointment was a symbolic one. Strangely enough, Thomass patron had chosen him because he was a successful black man. Whether Thomas privately considered himself a beneficiary of a White House quota remains unknown. In any case, Thomass personal odyssey from Pin Point to the pinnacle of Washington, D.C., success, or some version of that odyssey, would always serve as an endorsement. Lena Williamss New York Times article concluded by referring to Thomass difficult childhood and his ability to succeed against the odds, an angle that the Bush administration would exploit to the utmost in its presentation of Thomas the judicial candidate.

Allegations of Sexual Harassment Surfaced

The Senates confirmation hearings appeared to be moving along smoothly when Anita Hills allegations were made public. On October 8, Hilla professor at the University of Oklahoma Law Schoolheld a press conference, in which she made public the main points of the testimony she had previously given the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI report had been reviewed by the confirmation committee but not made public, and on the day of Hills press conference the Thomas vote was scheduled to move to the Senate floor. A wave of protest by womens groups and other activists led the committee, headed by Delawares Joseph Biden, a Democrat, to review Hills charges. Her testimony accused Thomas of badgering her for dates while she worked at the EEOC, and of accosting her with stories of pornographic film scenes and his own sexual prowess. The accusations fit the paradigm of sexual harassment in the workplace: the male superior uses sexual banter and other discomfiting tactics as a means of exercising power over a female underling. Hill claimed that Thomass constant harassment made it difficult for her to do her job, and even caused her anxiety to manifest itself in the form of physical distress.

The televised hearings, during which Hill, Thomas, and several witnesses on both sides testified about the allegations, were among the most widely-viewed political events in television history. Thomas denied any wrongdoing, but stopped short of calling Hill a liar. Most of Thomass political allies on the committeeRepublican senators Strom Thurmond, Arlen Specter, Alan Simpson, and Orrin Hatchinterrogated Hill mercilessly, and suggested that Hill was either being cynically manipulated by liberals or was lying outright. Spy magazine reported that numerous young researchers had been recruited by the White House staff to find embarassing or otherwise damaging disclosures about Hill and her testimony. The partisan battle over the confirmation became so vicious that following the vote, considerable press attention was devoted to the Congresss political game-playing and the painful divisions it left among various constituencies.

Thomas himself remarked during the course of the televised hearings that the process had been a harrowing personal ordeal for him and his wife. Indeed, he claimed, he would have preferred an assassins bullet to this kind of living hell, and he would have withdrawn from consideration earlier had he known what lay ahead. Lewis Laphams column in Harpers the following month attacked Thomas as a hypocrite: He had the gall to present himself as a victim, a man who had been forced to endure the unspeakable agony of sitting comfortably in a chair for two weeks and being asked a series of facile questions to which he gave equally facile answers. Lapham asserted that Thomas displayed contempt for the entire apparatus of the American ideafor Congress, for the press, for freedom of expression, for the uses of democratic government, for any rules other than his own.

Confirmation Followed Heated Hearings

Many blacks had supported Thomas and followed the Republicans theory that Hill was part of a campaign to smear him. Many women who opposed Thomas and believed Hill vowed to defeat Thomass backers in the next elections. Another ramification of the Hill-Thomas debacle was the major attention suddenly afforded the previously neglected question of sexual harrassment; the phrase entered the mainstream political vocabulary almost overnight. In any event, the verdictin the minds of the committee and in the presswas that both witnesses were credible and that determining the truth of what had taken place nearly a decade before was well nigh impossible. The president urged Congress to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt, arguing that he was innocent until proven guilty. Others argued that Thomas was not on trial for harassing Hill, and that any doubt was sufficient to disqualify him. In the end, Thomas was confirmed by a 52-48 margin. To those who complained about the confirmation hearings focus on these personal matters, the New Republic replied that The Bush administration promoted Mr. Thomass nomination as a matter of character, not of professional qualifications; and it has reaped a bitter reward.

Following the confirmation, Virginia Thomas told her story to People, recounting the tension of the confirmation fight and speculating that Anita Hill was in love with Clarence Thomas. She referred to the struggle to get Thomas confirmed as Good versus Evil. Alisa Solomon, meanwhile, writing in the Village Voice, argued that Anita Hill was attacked for showing the same qualities for which Clarence Thomas was celebrated: her ability to argue, her aggressiveness, and her self-sufficiency. Thomas, Solomon wrote, seems unable to see women as a class, and therefore unable to recognize the importance of rulings that affect us.

Clarence Thomas had made it to the top, and his defiant individual style and renegade opinions had left him with many admirers and many detractors. The question on most observers minds was this: Would Thomas be the gadfly on a conservative court, or would he fall in line with its prevailing right-leaning tendencies? His experience prior to his confirmation guaranteed that he would be watched just as closely after he donned the robes.

Judicial Decision Brought Criticism

During the first few years after his appointment to the Supreme Court, Thomas remained quiet and out of the limelight that had shone on him for most of his career. He did not ask questions during oral arguments, he wrote few decisions or dissension to these decisions, and most often followed the lead of other conservative justices such as OConner and Scalia. Then, starting in 1994, Thomas came into his own as a justice as he became the deciding vote in numerous controversial cases, many dealing with issues of race and free speech. One specific case that many minorities took to heart was Adarand Constructors Inc. vs. Pena where a white owner of a construction company sued the state of Colorado for unfair hiring practices due to affirmative action. Randy Pech, the plaintiff in the case, argued that the state had awarded an Hispanic-owned company the job of redoing highways based purely on the fact that the company was Hispanic-owned and run. Pech contended that he was the victim of reverse-racism and that this was not the purpose of the affirmative action program. The issue was contested heavily both within the court as well as in the media, where many people felt that if Pech won his case that it would be the beginning of the deconstruction of the affirmative action program that greatly helped many minorities secure jobs and education. When the final decision came down, in favor of Pech by one vote, 5-4, it was discovered that Thomas had voted in favor of the majority.

Another example of Thomass controversial decision making came from the case Missouri vs. Jenkins. In this case, the state of Missouri was suing a district judge for forcing them to waste money in order to bring more white students into predominately black city schools that were receiving fewer funds from their community than suburban schools that were mainly made up of white students. Once again the case was heavily disputed in the court and once again the decision came out in favor of the plaintiff, with the court split 5-4. Many critics of the decision felt that this was a major blow to the idea that desegregation, whether natural or forced, would bring equality to educational institutions, but Thomas shot back with his own views, which were summed up later in Insight on the News magazine: He added that a schools majority black status is not a constitutional violation in and of itself and wondered why there was an assumption that anything that is predominantly black must be inferior.

Both of these decisions outraged many in the African-American community, who felt that Thomas had turned into an Uncle Tom, completely controlled by the conservative right who traditionally downplayed the needs of minorities. Yet Thomas felt that it was his job not to play favorites to any one community, but instead to show impartiality in his decisions and to try and follow the letter of the law. As he told Jet magazine, I cannot do to White people what an elite group of Whites did to Black people, because if I do, I am just as bad as they are. I cant break from law just because they did. If they were wrong in doing that (using law to discriminate) to us, then I am wrong in doing it to them.

Gained Respect Along With Criticism

Since 1994 Thomas has continued to make decisions that were not popular in the African-American community. However, as he remained constant in his decisions, he also gained the respect of many people in the field who assumed the worst of him after the Anita Hill hearings. Ronald Rotunda, a professor at the University of Illinois said to the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, He thinks independently and its unfair to think of him as a knee-jerk conservative. Many people still feel however that Thomas has somehow betrayed the needs of minorities, specifically those of the African-American community. Yet as Thomas told Newsweek, It pains me more deeply than any of you can imagine, to be perceived by so many members of my race as doing them harm All the sacrifices and all the long hours of preparation were to help not to hurt.

One area that Thomas receives little criticism in is his family life. Although married for the second time, it is clear that Thomas is devoted to his wife and to fostering a healthy relationship. Even more evident is Thomass love for his extended family. In 1997 he took custody of his grandnephew, Mark Martin, Jr., in order to give him the opportunity to succeed, something he would not have received with his parents. The American Lawyer, explained the circumstances: Mark Sr., Thomass nephew, had been in prison on cocaine-trafficking charges. And Mark Jr.s mother Susan was struggling with her own problems, raising four children, including young Mark Jr., on her own. Thomas believed that the boy would face lifelong trouble if he were not removed from his environment soon, and the parents agreed. According to a friend in the same American Laywer article, He was paying back his own grandfather by taking care of Mark.

An Ebony magazine article said that Thomass struggle against the tradition of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and his exile from mainstream Black America is one of the strangest stories of our time. Yet many critics wondered if the controversy around his decisions would fade as time went by and he remained a steady advocate for more conservative justice. Yet as recently as 2002, institutions in the African-American community have publicly questioned his methods and protested his appointment to the highest court in the nation. Five professors at the University of North Carolina School of Law at Chapel Hill boycotted a visit that was to be given by Thomas to allow students to discuss and interact with the justice. According to the protestors, in the New Jersey Law Journal the reason for the protest was that For many people who hold legitimate expectations for racial equality and social justice, Justice Thomas personifies the cruel irony of the fireboat burning and sinking his visit adds insult to injury. Thomas, however, takes comments such as these in stride, for as he told Newsweek he has the right to think for myself. He went on to say that he refused to have my ideas assigned to me as though I was an intellectual slave because Im black. In 2003, M2 Best Books reported that Harper Collins made a deal with Thomas to publish a book that would trace his life from his upbringing through his confirmation to the court, in order for people to better understand why he chooses the way that he does.

Sources

American Lawyer, August 2001, p. 76.

American Spectator, October 1991.

Crisis, August/September 1991.

Harpers, December 1991.

In These Times, July 24, 1991; August 7, 1991; October 23, 1991.

Insight on the News, September 4, 1995, pp. 8-10.

Jet, November 28,1994, p. 22; September 11, 1995, p. 8.

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, July 2, 1995.

M2 Best Books, January 10, 2003.

Nation, September 23, 1991; October 14, 1991; October 28, 1991; November 4, 1991; November 11, 1991.

New Jersey Law Journal March 18, 2002, pp. 6-7.

New Republic, October 28, 1991.

Newsweek, September 16, 1991; October 21, 1991; October 28, 1991; August 10, 1998, p. 53.

New York Times, February 8, 1987; October 8, 1991.

People, October 28, 1991; November 11, 1991.

Policy Review, Fall 1991.

Spy, December 1991.

Time, September 16, 1991; October 28, 1991.

U.S. News & World Report, October 21, 1991.

Village Voice, October 22, 1991.

Simon Glickman and Ralph G. Zerbonia

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Glickman, Simon; Zerbonia, Ralph. "Thomas, Clarence 1948–." Contemporary Black Biography. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. 30 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Glickman, Simon; Zerbonia, Ralph. "Thomas, Clarence 1948–." Contemporary Black Biography. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (June 30, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2874100067.html

Glickman, Simon; Zerbonia, Ralph. "Thomas, Clarence 1948–." Contemporary Black Biography. 2003. Retrieved June 30, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2874100067.html

Thomas, Clarence 1948–

Clarence Thomas 1948

Supreme Court Justice

At a Glance

Raised by His Devout Catholic Grandfather

Struggles With Race and Identity Intensified

Joined Staff of Missouri Attorney General

Accepted Posts With High Political Visibility

Divorced and Remarried

Embraced Vision of Black Conservatism

Supreme Court Nomination Created Controversy

Allegations of Sexual Harassment Surfaced

Confirmation Followed Heated Hearings

Sources

Clarence Thomas was sworn in as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in November of 1991, following perhaps the greatest furor over such an appointment in modern history. A conservative jurist with experience in the education department under President Ronald Reagan, Thomas had also headed the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission and, while there, allegedly sexually harrassed a staff member, Anita Hill. Hills accusations surfaced only after Thomass nomination to the nations highest court by President George Bush; Hill was by this time a law professor. The Senate confirmation hearings that dealt with these charges had enormous political and social ramifications above and beyond Thomass suitability for the Supreme Court. The judges appointment was a watershed for the Bush administration, which needed to replace retiring black justice Thurgood Marshall. The choice of a black conservative effectively stymied Democratic opposition to Thomas, who suspended his lifelong criticism of racial politics long enough to call his confirmation hearings a high-tech lynching. That remark is representative of the many contradictions embodied by this controversial figure. Indeed, Newsweek noted that Thomas is an intense opponent of affirmative action, yet has benefited from it throughout his life. the very reason he was named to succeed Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court is because of his race.

At the same time, Thomass confirmation left in its wake a number of simmering conflicts: Many women felt Hills charges werent taken seriously enough by an all-male Senate panel, advocates of abortion rights and affirmative action feared that Thomas would be a hostile voice on the increasingly conservative Court, and many blacks felt they had been subject at once to tokenism and racist manipulation. For a figure whose humble beginnings were a high-profile calling card among his Washington sponsors, Thomas had already made an impression that was anything but humble.

Thomas was born in 1948 in Pin Point, Georgia, a tiny coastal hamlet named for the plantation that once stood there. His mother Leola was 18 at the time of his birth; his father M. C. Thomas left the family two years later. Leola, her two childrenClarence and his sister Emma Maeand her Aunt Annie Graham occupied what Newsweek described as a one-room wooden house near the marshes. It had dirt floors and no plumbing or electricity.

At a Glance

Born June 23, 1948, in Pin Point, GA; son of M. C. and Leola (Anderson) Thomas; one of three children; married Kathy Grace Ambush, 1971 (divorced, 1984); married Virginia Lamp, 1987; children: (first marriage) Jamal. Education: Graduated from Holy Cross College, Worcester, MA, 1971; received law degree from Yale University Law School, 1974. Politics: Republican. Religion: Born Baptist, raised Catholic.

Held summer jobs in legal aid and at Hill, Jones & Farrington (law firm), c. 1971-74; staff member for Attorney General John Danforth, Missouri, 1974-77; legal counsel for Monsanto Corporation, St. Louis, MO, 1977-80; head of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1980-89; appointed to federal appeals court, 1990; confirmed as Supreme Court Justice, 1991. Member of advisory board of the Lincoln Review.

Their destitute life was struck by further misfortune five years after M. C. walked out on the family, ostensibly headed for Philadelphia: the house burned down, so the family moved near Leolas parents, Mr. and Mrs. Myers Anderson. Having in the meantime married a man who didnt want to raise the childrenthere was now a third child, Myers, who went by the name PeanutLeola agreed to let the Andersons care for the two boys and sent Emmie Mae to live with Aunt Annie in Pin Point.

Raised by His Devout Catholic Grandfather

Myers Anderson exercised a huge influence on Clarences life. A devout Catholic who created his own fuel oil business in Savannah in the 1950s, he provided the example of self-motivation in the face of segregation that would inspire his grandson. Through hard work and a refusal to submit to the poverty and degradation of menial work, he did for himself, as one of his favorite expressions went. He fed and cared for Clarence and Peanut and paid for their education at St. Benedict the Moor; at this all-black grammar school, white nuns exercised firm discipline. The racist vigilante group known as the Ku Klux Klan often threatened the nuns, who rode on the backs of buses with their students and demanded hard work and promptly completed assignments. Clarences grandfather took him to a meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), of which Anderson was a member, and read the boys grades aloud. The most compassionate thing [our grandparents] did for us was to teach us to fend for ourselves and to do that in an openly hostile environment, Thomas noted in a 1987 speech before the Heritage Foundation, published in Policy Review in 1991.

Clarence performed duties as altar boy and crossing guard at St. Benedicts, and though not remembered by his teachers as an outstanding student, he excelled at sports. After school he and his brother helped their grandfather on his delivery rounds. Clarences favorite retreat was a blacks-only library in Savannahthe Savannah public library was for whitesfunded by the Carnegie family. His browsing there helped to formulate his ambition: He would one day have the sophistication to understand magazines like the New Yorker.

He graduated from St. Benedicts in 1962, spent two years at St. Pius X High School, and then transferredat his grandfathers insistenceto a white Catholic boarding school called St. John Vianney Minor Seminary. Clarence did well in school, but experienced for the first time the hostility of racism. His schoolmates derisive remarks came as a shockhis segregated youth had ironically provided some insulation from everyday racismbut he kept his composure. Following St. Johns, Clarence went to Immaculate Conception Seminary in Conception, Missouri, to study for the priesthood. As one of only four blacks there, Thomas was again made acutely aware of the double standards of white Christian society. One incident, however, caused him to give up on the seminary for good: the voice of a fellow seminarian cheering the news that black civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., had been shot in 1968. I knew I couldnt stay in this so-called Christian environment, he remarked later.

Struggles With Race and Identity Intensified

In 1968 Thomas began his studies at Holy Cross, a Jesuit college in Worcester, Massachusetts. This period saw an intensification of Thomass struggle with his identity, his background, and the politics of race. He joined the Black Student Union, a militant group on campus that succeeded in using its political and rhetorical energies to make some changes, including an all-black dormitory, more courses relevant to black students, and increased financial aid. The atmosphere of questioning and empowerment was exhilarating for Thomas, though unlike many of his contemporaries he never abandoned his earliest sources of strength: Thomas still spoke the conservative maxims of his grandfather and the nuns far more often than the chic of the left, reported Newsweek. Though he adopted some of the language, style, and arguments of the radical Black Panther Partys leaders, he remained a skeptic and was often the sole dissenter among his revolutionary circle. This tendency would serve him in good stead as he learned what he would later call the loneliness of the black conservative.

During his sophomore year Thomas met Kathy Grace Ambush and began a relationship that would lead to their 1971 marriage. In 1973 their son, Jamal, was born. Thomas had registered for the draft in 1966, at age 18, but had a student deferment; when he graduated in 1971, and his number in the conscription lottery was low, he seemed a likely candidate for military service in Vietnam. However, he failed his physical examination. He had applied to Yale, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania law schoolsall of which had accepted himand decided on Yale because of the financial support it offered him. Thomas was a beneficiary of Yales new affirmative-action policy, which offered opportunities to minority students. Though he benefited from this policy, however, it raised in Thomasperhaps for the first timedoubts about whether he had succeeded on his own merits. These doubts would trouble him throughout his career and would motivate a deep distrust of what conservatives like to call entitlements or handouts.

Thus he strained to demonstrate his qualifications, to prove that something other than his blackness had brought him into the Ivy League. While at Yale he held some summer jobs; he assisted a small legal-aid establishment, which brought him into contact with welfare cases, and spent a summer at the law firm of Hill, Jones, & Farrington. In the latter job Thomas could exercise his skill at developing both sides of an argument. As a law student, Thomas dedicated himself to areas of legal study less often associated with blackstax and corporate lawrather than civil rights. His eagerness to dissociate himself from the stereotypes that surrounded beneficiaries of affirmative action was a strong determining factor here. Yet when he began to look for work as his graduation drew near, he found few law firms interested him. The pay they offered was demonstrably lower than what white graduates would have been offered, and they tended to assume Thomas wanted to do social rather than corporate law. Once again, he found himself pigeonholed by race.

Joined Staff of Missouri Attorney General

Rather than accept what he considered an insufficient salary from the firm where hed done his summer work, Thomas accepted a position on the staff of John Danforth, attorney general of Missouri. Danforth had attended Yale himself and, as an Episcopal minister and Republican, he saw in Thomas a promising young conservative. Thomas worked hard under Danforth and specialized in tax law. He achieved a victory when he appealed a decision against the stateit regarded the governors banning of personalized license platesand won in a higher court. Danforths office felt that the case was unwinnable since a lot of wealthy people had these so-called vanity plates; Thomas felt it necessary to prove that the privileged few couldnt control the law.

Yet Thomas himself was allegedly status-seeking; he bought a BMW automobile while working in Danforths office, though he told fellow workers that a Mercedes-Benz was the car for a gentleman to drive. This affection for status symbols no doubt grew out of Thomass fondness for the ideology of self-help. He took a large step in the direction of greater financial stability when Danforth left Missouri to take a Senate seat; Thomas landed a job as legal counsel for the Monsanto Corporation. There, as Time phrased it, he shepherded pesticides through government registration.

Monsantos chemical empire supported him comfortably until he decided to move on to Washington. He returned to Danforths staff and worked on energy and environmental issues, but was at the same time struck by the work of a handful of black conservatives. The writings of right-wing black economists Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, as well as the black conservative journal, the Lincoln Review, had a galvanizing effect on Thomas. He joined the advisory board of the Review, which has created waves in the black community by taking some very unpopularsome would say reactionarystands. The journals editor, Jay Parker, argued on behalf of the government of South Africa, while the journal itself opposed a holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr.; questioned the extent, if not the existence, of racial discrimination; and referred to abortion as a plot to slaughter blacks. Parker and Thomas chatted on the phone in 1980; the controversial editor would soon be looking for interested black conservatives to join the administration of President Ronald Reagan.

Accepted Posts With High Political Visibility

Thomass first offer from Reagans people was a position as a policy staffer on energy and environmental issues, but he turned this job down, acceptingin spite of his previous aversion to such mattersa place at the head of civil rights under the secretary of education. Ten months later he was put in charge of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an agency charged with enforcing civil rights laws. Why Thomas accepted these jobs remains unclear, since they are the sort of classically black appointments he had resolutely avoided in the past. Some observers have speculated that Thomas merely took the positions with the highest political visibility, while others suggested that his recent infatuation with ultraconservative black thinkers like Sowell and Parker had awakened in him a new political enthusiasm, and that he wished to tackle affirmative action and other issues head on.

In any case, Thomass years at EEOC were fraught with conflict. He allegedly settled petty scores in harsh ways, argued inconsistently on issues like hiring quotas for minoritieshe both opposed and supported them over the course of his tenureand reportedly avoided prosecuting thousands of age discrimination cases. Although less doctrinaire than the other ClarenceReagans fiery Civil Rights Commission chair Clarence Pendleton, another conservative black who alienated much of the civil rights communityThomas made his self-help philosophy well known. He remarked to Lena Williams in a New York Times profile that race-conscious remedies in this society are dangerous. You cant orchestrate society along racial lines or different lines by saying there should be 10 percent blacks, 15 percent Hispanics. He also made waves by remarking in 1984 that civil rights leaders just bitch, bitch, bitch, moan and whine.

Despite the discontent he evoked from civil rights activists, Thomas was granted a second term at the EEOC in 1984. He did not stand uniformly behind the administrations decisions, however. His was a dissenting voicethough reportedly not a very loud onewhen the Justice Department argued that religious institutions like Bob Jones University, which practices various kinds of discrimination, should remain tax-exempt. A fellow member of the administration said rather glibly that, in two days, the furor over Bob Jones would end, Thomas remarked in a 1987 speech. I responded that we had sounded our death knell with that decision. Unfortunately, I was more right than he was.

Divorced and Remarried

It was a difficult period for Thomas, who had separated from his first wife in 1981; the two divorced in 1984, and Clarence retained custody of Jamal. The circumstances of the marriage and the divorce remain a well-guarded secret, and allegations of abuse made at the time returned to haunt Thomas during his confirmation hearings years later. Thomas became a stern taskmaster at home, pressuring Jamal to succeed at school just as Myers Anderson had pressed him in his own youth. In 1986 he met Virginia Lamp, a white fellow law school graduate active in conservative causes. The two fell in love and married in 1987. Virginia was a Labor Department lawyer when Thomas was nominated for the Supreme Court.

Thomass private regimen is as interesting a mix as his frequently contradictory public statements. He began lifting weights while at college and continues his body-building to this day, yet he also smokes cigarsnot, some would say, the best habit for someone in weight training. Earning $71,000 a year under Reagan, Thomas was chauffeured around in a limousine which, according to Time, stopped at a Catholic church every morning so he could pray. Yet despite his lifelong piety he was accused by Anita Hill of a fascination with pornography and bizarre sexual practices such as bestiality. He has long opposed affirmative action, but bases this distrust on a distrust of white institutions which he believes keep blacks begging for jobs and other economic opportunities.

In a critical 1987 speech before the conservative Heritage Foundation, Thomas articulated his feelings about the perils of entitlement programs, job quotas, andmost notoriouslywelfare. He had some years earlier shocked listeners by criticizing his sister for her dependency on welfare, though, according to Time s Jack E. White she was not getting welfare checks when he singled her out but [was] working double shifts at a nursing home for slightly more than $2 an hour. But in this Heritage Foundation speech he articulated more specifically his concern about the welfare mentality. Though Reagan and others on the right had rankled blacks and civil rights proponents with derisive references to welfare queens, Thomass criticisms may have been harder for his opponents to dismissor so the administration hoped.

Embraced Vision of Black Conservatism

The Heritage Foundation speech also outlined Thomass plan for bringing more blacks into the ranks of conservatism. I am of the view that black Americans will move inexorably and naturally toward conservatism when we stop discouraging them; when they are treated as a diverse group with differing interests; and when conservatives stand up for what they believe in rather than stand against blacks, he proclaimed. He went on to suggest that the unnecessarily negative approach of the Reagan administration had been more alienating than its political philosophy toward welfare and affirmative action. Many critics have attacked Thomas for this ardent individualism. Bruce Shapiro represented many of Thomass opponents when he wrote in The Nation of Thomass far-reaching commitment to unravel the fabric of community and social responsibility.

Perhaps the most important strand of the Heritage Foundation speech was Thomass invocation of natural law. This discussion provided the most substantial evidence of his judicial philosophy and was particularly worrying to civil rights advocates and many people concerned about the fundamental separation of Church and State. The alarm of these constituencies was magnified by Thomass citing of Heritage trustee Lewis Lehrmans argument on behalf of the rights of the fetus as grounded in the Declaration of Independence as a splendid example of applying natural law. In brief, natural law depends on applying a perception of God-given rights and rulesas, indeed, the Declaration and other founding documents of the American republic do, at least rhetoricallyto human law. Without such a notion of natural law, Thomas claimed in his speech, the entire American political tradition, from Washington to Lincoln, from Jefferson to Martin Luther King, would be unintelligible. Thus, against what he perceives as the abstractions and inhumanity of the welfare state, he promotes a philosophy that establishes our inherent equality as a God-given right. Yet many critics have expressed grave reservations about the implications of such a belief.

The Republican party, however, which saw potential in Thomas early on, began to see him as a good prospect for the nations highest court. President Bush nominated him to the federal appeals court in 1990, and he was confirmed by the Senate in March of that year. The appeals court is a common stop on the route to the Supreme Court, and this was a route in which Thomas had expressed no uncertain interest. Bush nominated him in 1991, even though his performance on the appeals court wasnt outstanding. As Supreme Court nominees go, reported Margaret Carlson in a 1991 Time profile, Thomas has little judicial experience. He is not a brilliant legal scholar, a weighty thinker, or even the author of numerous opinions. Bruce Shapiro was more blunt in the Nation, calling the judge among the more scantily qualified Supreme Court candidates in recent memory.

Supreme Court Nomination Created Controversy

The stage was set for an ideological battle over Thomass appointment even before Anita Hill went public with her accusations. The NAACP, after lengthy discussion and much internal upheaval, voted to oppose Thomass confirmation. The chairman of the organization, William F. Gibson, read a statement featuring a seven-point argument for opposing Thomas. This statement, which was printed in its entirety in Crisis, reasoned that Judge Clarence Thomas judicial philosophy is simply inconsistent with the historical positions taken by the NAACP. The criticisms centered on Thomass performance at the EEOC and what Gibson characterized as the judges reactionary philosophical approach to a number of critical issues, not the least of which is affirmative action. Oddly enough, the NAACP stressed the importance of looking past race in this instancethough it believes fervently in the importance of having African-Americans on the Supreme Courtto focus on Thomass record. Thus an organization traditionally affiliated with the entitlement sensibility Thomas so disliked had actually judged him on his merits. It found him wanting. Similarly, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) voted 20-1 to oppose Thomass confirmation. The lone dissenter was also the CBCs only Republican.

Jesse Jackson, perhaps the most vocal black activist in the United States, was particularly critical of Thomas. In These Times quoted Jacksons remarks to a Chicago meeting of his organization, Operation PUSH: He is a prime beneficiary of our [civil rights activists] work. He got public accommodations, the right to vote, open housing because of civil rights marches and activism; yet he stood on our shoulders and kicked us in the head. John B. Judis, writing for In These Times, asserted that Thomass praise for Lehrmans antiabortion article puts him on the fanatic fringes of the abortion debate and could prove politically embarrassing to Republicans in 1992. Judis remarked on Thomass celebration of former National Security Aide Oliver Northwho had lied to Congress about his involvement in the famed Iran/Contra scandaland concluded a lengthy examination of Thomass legal thinking by declaring simply that Clarence Thomas is not fit to be a Supreme Court justice.

George Bush expressed his support for Thomas largely on the basis of the judges character. His life story, a real-world example of the conservative ideal, appeared in virtually every endorsement. Bush made no mention of Thomass judicial temperament, nor of his decisions on the appeals court; it was clear that this appointment was a symbolic one. Thomass patron had chosen him because he was a successful black man. Whether Thomas privately considered himself a beneficiary of a White House quota remains unknown. In any case, Thomass personal odyssey from Pin Point to the pinnacle of Washington, D.C., success, or some version of that odyssey, would always serve as an endorsement. Lena Williamss New York Times article concluded by referring to Thomass difficult childhood and his ability to succeed against the odds, an angle that the Bush administration would exploit to the utmost in its presentation of Thomas the judicial candidate.

Allegations of Sexual Harassment Surfaced

The Senates confirmation hearings appeared to be moving along smoothly when Anita Hills allegations were made public. On October 8, Hilla professor at the University of Oklahoma Law Schoolheld a press conference, in which she made public the main points of the testimony she had previously given the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI report had been reviewed by the confirmation committee but not made public, and on the day of Hills press conference the Thomas vote was scheduled to move to the Senate floor. A wave of protest by womens groups and other activists led the committee, headed by Delawares Joseph Biden, a Democrat, to review Hills charges. Her testimony accused Thomas of badgering her for dates while she worked at the EEOC, and of accosting her with stories of pornographic film scenes and his own sexual prowess. The accusations fit the paradigm of sexual harassment in the workplace: the male superior uses sexual banter and other discomfiting tactics as a means of exercising power over a female underling. Hill claimed that Thomass constant harassment made it difficult for her to do her job and even caused her anxiety to manifest itself in the form of physical distress.

The televised hearings, during which Hill, Thomas, and several witnesses on both sides testified about the allegations, were among the most widely-viewed political events in television history. Thomas denied any wrong-doing but stopped short of calling Hill a liar. Most of Thomass political allies on the committeeRepublican senators Strom Thurmond, Arlen Specter, Alan Simpson, and Orrin Hatchsuggested that Hill was either being cynically manipulated by liberals or was lying outright. Spy magazine reported that numerous young researchers had been recruited by the White House staff to find embarassing or otherwise damaging disclosures about Hill and her testimony. The partisan battle over the confirmation became so vicious that following the vote, considerable press attention was devoted to the Congresss political game-playing and the painful divisions it left among various constituencies.

Thomas himself remarked during the course of the televised hearings that the process had been a harrowing personal ordeal for him and his wife. Indeed, he claimed, he would have preferred an assassins bullet to this kind of living hell, and he would have withdrawn from consideration earlier had he known what lay ahead. Lewis Laphams column in Harpers the following month attacked Thomas as a hypocrite: He had the gall to present himself as a victim, a man who had been forced to endure the unspeakable agony of sitting comfortably in a chair for two weeks and being asked a series of facile questions to which he gave equally facile answers. Lapham asserted that Thomas displayed contempt for the entire apparatus of the American ideafor Congress, for the press, for freedom of expression, for the uses of democratic government, for any rules other than his own.

Confirmation Followed Heated Hearings

Many blacks had supported Thomas and followed the Republicans theory that Hill was part of a campaign to smear him. Many women who opposed Thomas and believed Hill vowed to defeat Thomass backers in the next elections. Another ramification of the Hill-Thomas debacle was the major attention suddenly afforded the previously neglected question of sexual harrassment; the phrase entered the mainstream political vocabulary almost overnight. In any event, the verdictin the minds of the committee and in the presswas that both witnesses were credible and that determining the truth of what had taken place nearly a decade before was well nigh impossible. The president urged Congress to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt, arguing that he was innocent until proven guilty. Others argued that Thomas was not on trial for harrassing Hill, and that any doubt was sufficient to disqualify him. In the end, Thomas was confirmed by a 52-48 margin, the smallestaccording to Time by which any justice has been confirmed this century. To those who complained about the confirmation hearings focus on these personal matters, the New Republic replied that The Bush administration promoted Mr. Thomass nomination as a matter of character, not of professional qualifications; and it has reaped a bitter reward.

Following the confirmation, Virginia Thomas told her story to People, recounting the tension of the confirmation fight and speculating that Anita Hill was in love with Clarence Thomas. She referred to the struggle to get Thomas confirmed as Good versus Evil. Alisa Solomon, meanwhile, writing in the Village Voice, argued that Anita Hill was attacked for showing the same qualities for which Clarence Thomas was celebrated: her ability to argue, her aggressiveness, and her self-sufficiency. Thomas, Solomon wrote, seems unable to see women as a class, and therefore unable to recognize the importance of rulings that affect us.

Clarence Thomas had made it to the top, and his defiant individual style and renegade opinions had left him with many admirers and many detractors. Whether he would distinguish himself on the Supreme Court remained to be seen. The question on most observers minds was this: Would Thomas be the gadfly on a conservative court, or would he fall in line with its prevailing right-leaning tendencies? His experience prior to his confirmation guaranteed that he would be watched just as closely after he donned the robes. What his celebrated triumph over hard circumstances would mean then, no one could predict.

Sources

The American Spectator, October 1991.

Crisis, August/September 1991.

Harpers, December 1991.

In These Times, July 24,1991; August 7,1991; October 23,1991.

Nation, September 23, 1991; October 14, 1991; October 28, 1991; November 4, 1991; November 11, 1991.

New Republic, October 28, 1991.

Newsweek, September 16, 1991; October 21, 1991; October 28, 1991.

New York Times, February 8, 1987; October 8, 1991.

People, October 28, 1991; November 11, 1991.

Policy Review, Fall 1991.

Spy, December 1991.

Time, September 16, 1991; October 28, 1991.

U.S. News & World Report, October 21, 1991.

Village Voice, October 22, 1991.

Simon Glickman

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Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas

President George Bush named Clarence Thomas (born 1948) to the Supreme Court in 1991. Senate confirmation was gained only after intense public controversy over charges of "sexual harassment" brought by Anita Hill, Thomas's former employee. Since joining the Court, Thomas has tended to vote with the more conservative justices.

Clarence Thomas was born in Pin Point, Georgia, a tiny, coastal hamlet town outside of Savannah, on June 23, 1948. For the first years of his life he lived in a one-room shack with dirt floors and no plumbing. When Thomas was two years old, his father walked out on the family, leaving Clarence's mother with two small children and another on the way. At the age of seven, Thomas and his younger brother were sent to live with their grandfather, Myers Anderson, and his wife, Christine, in Savannah. Anderson, a devout Catholic and active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), sent Thomas to a Catholic school staffed by strict but supportive nuns.

In 1964, the year the Civil Rights Act was enacted, Thomas' grandfather withdrew him from the all-black parochial high school he was attending and sent him to an all-white Catholic boarding school in Savannah, St. John Vianny Minor Seminary. Despite being confronted with racism, Thomas made excellent grades and played on the school's football team. Thomas' grandfather sent Clarence to Immaculate Conception Seminary in northwestern Missouri after his graduation from high school in 1967. Although Thomas was not the only African American student, he still was troubled by poor race relations. A racist remark made about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., made up Thomas' mind: he would not become a priest.

Struggles with Personal Identity

The decision bitterly disappointed his grandfather, but Clarence decided to enroll at Holy Cross, a Jesuit college in Worcester, Massachusetts. Thomas was a devoted student who "was always in the library, " according to one friend. Yet the future justice found time to participate on the track team, work in the school cafeteria, and volunteer to help the poor in Worcester once a week. He also assisted in founding the Black Student Union at Holy Cross. Thomas seemed haunted by racial isolation and academic pressures and admitted later that he had seriously considered dropping out of college. However, fearful that he would be drafted for service in the Vietnam War, Thomas stayed at Holy Cross and was graduated in 1971 with honors.

Another reason that Thomas may have decided to stay in school was his introduction to Kathy Ambush, a coed at a nearby college. A few days after they met, Thomas told a friend that he was in love with Kathy. They were married in Worcester the day after Clarence's college commencement and had one son, Jamal, born in 1973.

Thanks to his sterling academic record, Thomas was admitted to the law schools at Yale, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania. He chose Yale because of the financial support it offered him as part of its affirmative-action policy to attract students from racial and ethnic minorities. At Yale, he continued to do well academically, receiving mostly passes on Yale's grading scale of honors, pass, low pass, and fail.

Thomas appeared to fit in socially as well as academically. Yet, years later, he described his "rage" and loneliness at feeling snubbed by whites who viewed him as an affirmative action token and ignored by African Americans with more elite backgrounds. In his third year of law school he interviewed with law firms but again felt that he was treated differently because of his race.

Joined Staff of Missouri Attorney General

Thomas graduated from Yale law school in 1974. Rather than take what he considered an insufficient salary from the firm where he'd done his summer work, Thomas accepted a position on the staff of Attorney General John Danforth, a Republican. With Danforth's election to the Senate in 1977, Thomas took a job as an attorney for the Monsanto Company in St. Louis. In 1979 Thomas moved to Washington, DC, and became a legislative assistant to Danforth on the condition that he not be assigned to civil rights issues. His resentment toward the tokenism of affirmative action, combined with his grandfather's lessons on self-sufficiency and independence, had moved Thomas into a circle of African American conservatives who rejected the dependency fostered among blacks by the welfare state.

Thomas' conservative ideas quickly brought him to the attention of the Reagan administration, which was always looking for qualified members of ethnic minorities. In 1981 Thomas was appointed assistant secretary for civil rights in the United States Department of Education. Thomas openly stated that minority groups must succeed by their own merit, and he asserted that affirmative action programs and civil rights legislation do not improve living standards.

Accepted Appointment With High Political Visibility

In 1982, Clarence Thomas became the chairman of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which was designed to enforce anti-discrimination laws that cover race, sex, gender, and age discrimination in the workplace. Thomas served two consecutive terms as chairman, despite having previously sworn he would never work at EEOC. Over the eight years he served as chairman, Thomas shifted the focus of the commission from large class-action suits to individual cases of discrimination.

In 1990, President George Bush appointed Thomas to the Washington, DC, Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals, a common stepping stone to the Supreme Court. Thomas filled the seat left vacant by Robert Bork, an unsuccessful nominee to the Supreme Court. Thomas wrote only 20 opinions in the year he served on the court, none of which involved controversial constitutional issues. Despite this comparatively limited experience, Bush nominated Thomas to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on July 1, 1991. In announcing his choice to replace Marshall, Bush implausibly argued that "the fact that he [Thomas] is black has nothing to do with the sense that he is the best qualified at this time."

Anita Hill Alleges Sexual Harassment

The Senate's confirmation hearing appeared to be moving along smoothly until Anita Hill's allegations were made public. On October 8, Hill—a professor at the University of Oklahoma Law School—held a press conference, in which she made public the main points of testimony she previously had given the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Vociferous protest by some feminist groups led the confirmation committee, headed by Delaware Senator Joseph Biden, a Democrat, to publicly review Hill's charges.

In her testimony, Hill alleged that—while she worked at the EEOC nearly a decade earlier—Thomas badgered her for dates and told stories in her presence about pornographic film scenes and his own sexual prowess. Hill claimed that Thomas's actions made it difficult for here to do her job and even caused physical distress. Nevertheless, she continued to initiate contacts with Thomas even after he helped arrange for her appointment as a law professor.

The televised hearings, during which Hill, Thomas, and several witnesses on both sides testified about the allegations, were among the most widely-viewed political events in television history. Thomas denied any wrongdoing. His allies suggested that Hill was lying and was being cynically manipulated by liberals opposed to Thomas's views on abortion and affirmative action. Thomas himself remarked during the course of the televised hearings that the process had been a harrowing personal ordeal for him and his wife. Indeed, he claimed, he would have preferred "an assassin's bullet to this kind of living hell, " and he would have withdrawn himself from consideration earlier had he known what lay ahead. Suspending his lifelong criticism of racial politics, he characterized the televised hearings as a "hightech lynching."

Militant women's groups threatened to vote against Thomas's backers in the next elections. At the same time, many African Americans believed the Republican charges that Hill was part of a campaign to smear Thomas. In the end, Thomas was confirmed by a 52-48 margin, the smallest—according to Time—by which any justice has been confirmed in this century.

Hill's allegations helped to make sexual harassment a major political issue. The phrase itself had varying, even conflicting, definitions. Nevertheless, local, state, and national laws were passed to stop workplace practices considered demeaning to subordinates. Meanwhile, articles and books continued to debate the validity of Hill's specific charges against Thomas. There probably never will be a consensus judgement. Hill did not overtly protest at the time the alleged actions took place, and determining the truth years later was difficult.

Thomas had separated from his wife Kathy in 1981; the two divorced in 1984, and he retained custody of Jamal. The circumstances of the divorce remain a well-guarded secret, although allegations of abuse made at the time returned to haunt Thomas during his confirmation hearings. In 1986, Thomas met Virginia Lamp, a white fellow law school graduate active in conservative causes; and the two married in 1987. She was a Labor Department lawyer when Thomas was nominated for the Supreme Court. Following the confirmation, she told her story to People, recounting the tension of the confirmation fight and speculating that Hill was in love with Thomas. She referred to the struggle to get Thomas confirmed as "Good versus Evil."

A Quiet But Effective Justice

After joining the Court, Thomas voted most frequently with Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, thereby aligning himself with the conservatives who wish to restrain the federal government's power. Thomas showed no signs of the "freshman syndrome" attributed to Justice David Souter, who was relatively inactive his first year as a justice. Instead, Thomas was relatively visible in his opinion-writing from the beginning. Reviewers of his opinions and legal essays agreed that they were clear, well-researched, and consistent.

African American political groups criticized Thomas for maintaining his conservative values on the Court. In July 1995, NAACP convention delegates decried Thomas's votes regarding school desegregation, race-based redistricting of voting precincts, and racial quotas and set-asides. An invitation to speak before an eighth-grade awards ceremony in Maryland in 1996 sparked weeks of protests and disputes among school board members. The invitation ultimately was rescinded as was a request to address a youth festival in January 1997. Following the latter incident, however, NAACP president Kweisi Mfume suggested that African American organizations should stop bashing Thomas. "I don't think we can ever change Clarence Thomas, " Mfume stated, "and I don't want to spend any more of my time or NAACP time trying."

For the first few years after his appointment, Thomas tended to keep a low public profile. Due to the antipathy of some African American and feminist groups, he had fewer of the ceremonial invitations normally extended to Supreme Court Justices. From 1996 on, however, Thomas began to make occasional appearances before conservative political groups. In these speeches, he continued to call on judges to restrain their efforts to remake society by judicial decree. And, without directly alluding to his personal experiences, he eloquently deplored the decline of civility in America's public discourse and conduct.

Further Reading

A short biography of Clarence Thomas appears in the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution's publication The Supreme Court of the United States: Its Beginning & Its Justices 1790-1991 (1992). A journalistic analysis of the Clarence Thomas/ Anita Hill controversy is Timothy Phelps and Helen Winternitz's Capitol Games (1992). An historical view is given by Illinois U.S. Senator Paul Simon in Advice & Consent: Clarence Thomas, Robert Bork and the Intriguing History of the Supreme Court's Nomination Battles (1992). A periodical with additional information is Jet (March 3, 1997).

Brock, David. The Real Anita Hill: The Untold Story. (Free Press, 1993). Danforth, John. Resurrection: The Confirmation of Clarence Thomas. (Free Press, 1994). Myer, Jane. Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas (Houghton Mifflin, 1994). Smith, Christopher. Critical Judicial Nominations & Political Change: The Impact of Clarence Thomas (Greenwood, 1993). □

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Thomas, Clarence

Clarence Thomas

Born: June 23, 1948
Pin Point, Georgia

American Supreme Court justice

President George Bush (1924) named Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991. Since joining the Court, Thomasthe second African American to serve on the courthas often voted with the more conservative justices.

Georgia childhood

Clarence Thomas was born in the tiny coastal town of Pin Point, Georgia, on June 23, 1948. As a very young boy he lived in a one-room shack with dirt floors and no plumbing. When Thomas was two years old, his father walked out on the family. As a result, at the age of seven he and his younger brother were sent to live with their grandfather, Myers Anderson, and his wife in Savannah, Georgia. Anderson, a devout Catholic and active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), sent Thomas to a Catholic school staffed by nuns.

In remarks reported by Jet magazine, Thomas has said that he grew up speaking Gullah, a creole dialect spoken by African Americans on the coastal islands of the southeastern United States. Unlike other Supreme Court justices, he rarely asks questions from the bench during court proceedings. He has said that he developed this habit of silent listening when he was young because he found it a struggle to speak "standard English" correctly in school. Nevertheless, he was always a strong student.

In 1964 Thomas's grandfather withdrew him from the all-black religious high school he was attending and sent him to an all-white Catholic boarding school in Savannah. Despite being confronted with racism (a dislike or disrespect of a person based on his or her race), Thomas made excellent grades and played on the school's football team. Thomas's grandfather next sent him to Immaculate Conception Seminary (a place for religious education) in northwestern Missouri after his graduation from high school in 1967. Although Thomas was not the only African American student, he still was troubled by poor race relations. A racist remark he overheard about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (19291968) caused him to decide that he would not become a priest.

Turning to the law

Thomas left the seminary and enrolled at Holy Cross, a college in Worcester, Massachusetts. There he was a devoted student who also participated on the track team, did volunteer work in the community, and helped found the Black Student Union at Holy Cross. He also met Kathy Ambush, whom he married after graduating in 1971. The couple had one son, but divorced in 1984. (Thomas married his second wife, Virginia Lamp, in 1987.)

Thanks to his excellent academic record, Thomas was admitted to the law schools at Yale, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania. He chose Yale because of the financial support it offered him as part of its affirmative action policy to attract students from racial and ethnic minorities. At Yale he continued to do well academically, and he appeared to fit in socially as well. Yet, years later, he described his "rage" and loneliness at feeling snubbed by white people who viewed him as someone who could only attend Yale through an affirmative action program.

First government posts

Thomas graduated from Yale law school in 1974 and accepted a position on the staff of Missouri's Republican attorney general, John Danforth (1936). In 1979 he moved to Washington, D.C., and became a legislative assistant to Danforth on the condition that he not be assigned to civil rights issues. His resentment toward some aspects of affirmative action, combined with his grandfather's lessons on self-sufficiency and independence, had moved Thomas into a circle of African American conservatives.

Thomas's conservative ideas soon brought him to the attention of the presidential administration of Ronald Reagan (1911). In 1981 Thomas was appointed assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education. Thomas openly stated that minority groups must succeed by their own merit. He asserted that affirmative action programs and civil rights legislation do not improve living standards.

In 1982 Thomas became the chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which was designed to enforce laws against discrimination (unequal treatment based on age, disability, nationality, race, religion, or sex) in the workplace. Thomas served two consecutive terms as chairman, despite having previously sworn he would never work at the EEOC.

Supreme Court nomination

In 1990 President George Bush (1924) appointed Thomas to the Washington, D.C., circuit of the United States Court of Appeals, a common stepping stone to the Supreme Court. Thomas served on this court for only one year. Despite this relatively limited experience, Bush nominated Thomas to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (19081993) on July 1, 1991.

Senate hearings to confirm Thomas's nomination appeared to be moving along smoothly until allegations by Anita Hill, a former EEOC employee, were made public. On October 8, Hill held a press conference in which she made public the main points of testimony she previously had given the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Protests by some women's groups led the Senate confirmation committee to publicly review Hill's charges.

Anita Hill's charges

Hill charged that while she worked at the EEOC nearly a decade earlier Thomas pestered her for dates and told stories in her presence about pornographic film scenes and his own sexual ability. Hill claimed that Thomas's actions made it difficult for her to do her job and caused physical distress. Nevertheless, she continued to contact Thomas voluntarily even after he helped arrange for her appointment as a law professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Hill, Thomas, and witnesses on both sides testified about the allegations during the televised confirmation hearings, which were among the most widely viewed political events in television history. Thomas denied any wrongdoing. He remarked that the process had been a harrowing personal ordeal for him and his wife. Referring to the acts of violence by which whites had terrorized blacks in the American South in which he grew up, Thomas characterized the televised hearings as a "high-tech lynching." In the end, Thomas was confirmed by a 52-48 margin, the smallestaccording to Time magazineby which any justice has been confirmed in the past century.

Hill's allegations helped to make sexual harassment a major political issue. The phrase itself had varying and even conflicting definitions. Nevertheless, local, state, and national laws were passed to stop workplace practices that could make other employees uncomfortable. Meanwhile, articles and books continued to debate whether Hill's specific charges against Thomas were valid.

The quiet justice

After joining the Supreme Court, Thomas voted frequently with Justice Antonin Scalia (1936) and Chief Justice William Rehnquist (1924), thereby siding with the court's leading conservatives (people who resist change and prefer to keep traditions). Although generally silent during oral arguments at court proceedings, Thomas has been visible in his opinion writing from the beginning. Reviewers of his legal essays and opinions (the written arguments by which court justices explain the reasons for their ruling or their disagreement with the ruling) agree that they are clear, well researched, and consistent. However, African American political groups criticized Thomas for maintaining his conservative values in cases affecting minorities.

For the first few years after his appointment, Thomas tended to keep a low public profile. Starting in 1996, however, he began to make occasional appearances before conservative political groups. Since the election of George W. Bush (1946) as president in 2000, he has been increasingly hailed as a judicial hero by American conservatives.

For More Information

Danforth, John. Resurrection: The Confirmation of Clarence Thomas. New York: Free Press, 1994.

Gerber, Scott Douglas. First Principles: The Jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas. New York: New York University Press, 1999.

Greenya, John. Silent Justice: The Clarence Thomas Story. Ft. Lee, NJ: Barricade Books, 2001.

Halliburton, Warren J. Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice. Hillside, NJ: Enslow, 1993.

Smith, Christopher E., and Joyce A. Baugh. The Real Clarence Thomas: Confirmation Veracity Meets Performance Reality. New York: P. Lang, 2000.

Thomas, Andrew Peyton. Clarence Thomas: A Biography. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2001.

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Thomas, Clarence

THOMAS, CLARENCE

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas survived tense, nationally televised Senate confirmation hearings in 1991 to become the second African American in U.S. history to reach the Supreme Court.

Thomas was born June 23, 1948, in Pin Point, Georgia, a small town near Savannah. He attended Savannah's Saint Benedict the Moor, Saint Pius X High School, and Saint John Vianney Minor Seminary. When he graduated from Saint John in 1967, he was the only African American in his class. After just one year as a seminarian at Missouri's Immaculate Conception Seminary, Thomas abandoned his plans to become a priest. Instead, he enrolled in Massachusetts's Holy Cross College. After graduating in 1971, he attended Connecticut's Yale University Law School, and earned a doctor of jurisprudence degree in 1974.

Thomas married Kathy Grace Ambush in 1971. The couple had a son, Jamal Thomas, in 1973, and divorced in 1984. In 1986, he married Virginia Lamp, a political activist and a lawyer for the U.S. labor department.

Thomas's first job out of law school was as assistant to Missouri's Republican attorney general John C. Danforth. Thomas specialized in tax and environmental issues. In 1977, he accepted a position in the law department of Monsanto Chemical Corporation. Thomas returned to public service in 1979, when Danforth was elected to the U.S. Senate. Danforth invited Thomas to work for him as a legislative aide in Washington, D.C.

Thomas's star rose quickly during the Republican administration of President ronald reagan. In 1981, he was appointed assistant secretary in the civil rights division of the U.S. education department. It was here that his path crossed that of anita hill, a recent Yale University Law School graduate. In 1982, when Thomas became chair of the equal employment opportunity commission (EEOC), Hill also moved to the federal agency.

"We do not start from the premise that [statutory] language is imprecise. Instead, we assume that in drafting … legislation, Congress said what it meant."
—Clarence Thomas

In 1990, Thomas became a federal judge for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In 1991, President george h. w. bush nominated Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. During the confirmation process, Hill accused Thomas of sexually harassing her while she worked for him at the EEOC. After tense hearings before the U.S. Senate, Thomas was confirmed by a vote of 52–48.

On October 18, 1991, he was sworn in as the 106th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thomas is known as a conservative justice, voting to uphold states' rights and limit the powers of the federal government. He has frequently voted with Justice antonin scalia and Chief Justice william rehnquist. Legal commentators have noted that Thomas rarely asks questions during the Court's oral arguments. Thomas has not been the author of any ground-breaking decisions, but has written many dissenting opinions.

Several books have been published about the Supreme Court's only African American justice including two unauthorized biographies published in 2001. Numerous publishers sought the rights to Thomas's memoirs, and in January 2003, HarperCollins announced that it would publish Thomas's account of his life. Thomas received an advance of more than $1 million for the book, which is expected to be published in 2005.

further readings

Gerber, Scott Douglas. 1999. First Principles: The Jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas. New York: New York Univ. Press.

Thomas, Andrew Peyton. 2001. Clarence Thomas: A Biography. New York: Encounter Books.

cross-references

Hill, Anita Faye; Sexual Harassment "Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill Hearings" (In Focus).

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Thomas, Clarence

Clarence Thomas, 1948–, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1991–), b. Pin Point (Savannah), Ga. Raised in a poor family, he graduated (1974) from the Yale Law School and became a prominent black conservative active in Republican causes. He chaired the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (1982–90) during the Reagan and Bush administrations, and attempted there to modify the application of federal affirmative action guidelines. In 1990 he was appointed a judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In July, 1991, President George H. W. Bush nominated Thomas to the Supreme Court, to replace Thurgood Marshall. In Oct., 1991, when approval was all but assured, the Senate Judiciary Committee reopened confirmation hearings to examine charges by Anita Hill, a Univ. of Oklahoma law professor, that Thomas had subjected her to sexual harassment while she was an EEOC employee in the 1980s. Testimony and debate on the charges, followed by a nationwide television audience and revealing deep divisions among the public, did not in the end change the committee's recommendation for approval, and Thomas was confirmed by a full Senate vote of 52 to 48. Taking his seat, he aligned himself with Antonin Scalia, forming the Court's most conservative grouping.

See his memoir (2007).

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