Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Justice Clarence Thomas Speaks at Reagan Library

From the Ventura County Star:

Dana Rene Bowler / Star staff

Justice Clarence Thomas escorts former first lady Nancy Reagan after speaking to a sold-out crowd Tuesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley.

Thomas inspired by U.S. soldiers
Justice answers questions in Simi

By Anna Bakalis (Contact)
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

There are times when Clarence Thomas wishes he could take his wife and go home to Georgia, leaving his seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

But then he meets soldiers who came back from the war in Iraq with missing limbs and eyes, laid up in hospital beds with blood seeping through their bandages. Thomas realizes he wouldn't change a thing.

"I was ashamed of myself," Associate Justice Thomas, 68, said Tuesday at the Reagan Library. "If these kids can be in harm's way, defending our freedom and our country, it is not hard for me to stay in Washington."

Thomas was answering a question about what he would do if he weren't a justice on the nation's highest court. He spoke to a sold-out audience of about 700 in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum on Tuesday evening.

Thomas walked into the Presidential Learning Center arm in arm with Nancy Reagan, whom he acknowledged in opening remarks.

"You honor us in so many ways I can't express," Thomas said to Reagan.

His wife, Virginia Lamp Thomas, also was in attendance.

Though billed as a lecture, the event was more of a question-and-answer session, where the audience was asked to submit questions on cards that were later read by Duke Blackwood, the library's director.

Blackwood asked about the outcome of the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended the Florida recounts and allowed Florida to certify its vote.

"I think that decision was right," Thomas said to audience applause. "It's the correct legal analysis.

"Although I would have written a longer opinion," he quipped.

Thomas talked about Ronald Reagan and how the nation's 40th president bore similarities to his grandfather, who raised Thomas in Savannah, Ga., and offered him the guidance he is ruled by today, Thomas said.

"It's not about us," Thomas said. "It's about the principles we stand for — liberty, country, honor and integrity."

Thomas supports a strict interpretation of the Constitution and limits on the power of federal government in favor of states' rights, he said.

"It's not up to me to make up words in the Constitution that aren't there," he said.

In 1980, he changed his voter registration from Democrat to Republican so he could vote for Reagan.

"I didn't consider myself a Republican. But what he said and the way he said it reflected the way I was raised in Georgia."

* * *

Heritage Foundation Videos

The Heritage Foundation has a special webpage with videos of Justice Clarence Thomas's recent speeches in New York, Atlanta, Omaha, Chicago, Dallas, and D.C.

Justice Thomas Speaks in California

From the Orange County Register:
ORANGE – Clarence Thomas told an overflow crowd at Chapman University Monday evening that he never wanted to become a Supreme Court justice, or even a judge.

"There's not much that entices about the job," Thomas said, answering questions from the public that provided a rare glimpse of the man behind the office. "There's no money in it, no privacy, no big houses, and from an ego standpoint, it does nothing for me."

Thomas, 59, said the position is satisfying because he feels he's serving the public, and he's honored by it, "but I wouldn't say I like it."

"I like sports," Thomas said. "I like to drive a motor home."

Speaking to more than 1,000 people on the last leg of his tour to promote his book "My Grandfather's Son: a Memoir," published by HarperCollins in October, Thomas said he wrote the book as a tribute to his grandparents, who raised him.

His book describes his life as a child in segregated Georgia whose mother worked as a maid and whose father had abandoned the family.

He went to live with his grandparents and later considered becoming a Catholic priest, but ultimately graduated from Yale Law School and after bitterly contested Senate confirmation hearings earned a place on the nation's high court.

The book includes Thomas' first personal account of the impact on his life of the Senate hearings, in which his former aide Anita Hill testified that he had sexually harassed her.

The justice said he wanted to emphasize a message of hope in his book, to show how people can rise above their circumstances through work and determination. He added that he never considered himself "particularly talented," nor his life unusual.

Immigrants have been attracted to the book, he said, because they relate to the theme of overcoming adversity.

After a short, self-deprecating speech, Thomas spent half an hour responding to written questions from the audience, and later signed copies of his book.

Asked how his Roman Catholic faith impacted his job, Thomas said he did not let his religion influence his decisions on the court. He also said he was determined "not to be cajoled or enticed into doing wrong things" by flattery.

Some of his cases involve hard decisions that "pull at you as human beings," Thomas said. "Only people who don't feel pulled are people with no authority and those whose minds are already made up."

Thomas, whose visit was sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., drew standing ovations from the impressed crowd. When he first came up to the podium, to his apparent astonishment, a woman rose from the crowd and burst into an impassioned chorus of "You're Marvelous."

Thomas said sometimes he will just sit and read the Constitution to admire it as a document.

"Many people who can read the warranty of an iPhone have never read the Constitution of the United States," Thomas said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Attorney Tim Sandefur was there, and offers these observations:
Yesterday’s event with Justice Clarence Thomas went really well; it was full of the electricity of admiration and joy that Justice Thomas seems to inspire in people, and I was very privileged to attend the VIP reception beforehand and get a chance to talk briefly with the Justice and meet up with some old friends.

The talk itself was attended by an overflow crowd—the Heritage Foundation even had to set up two overflow rooms for people to watch the talk on closed circuit television (and the line for the book signing afterwards was an hour long). I was lucky enough to get into the second row center, where I could see very well.

The show began with a brief and powerful introduction by Professor Don Booth that really set the tone for the evening. “I’ve been teaching here for 45 years,” he began. “And before that I was a student. And let me tell you. Forty eight years, two months, and one day ago [I don’t remember this exactly, but he did] I was sitting right over there—” here he pointed to the right side of the audience. “And up here on stage was Martin Luther King.”*

The audience instantly fell silent.

“And even then, he was urging us to judge people by the content of their character. Well, Dr. King, we’ve done that. And that’s why we’re here tonight.” The audience burst into loud applause.

Several other introductions were made, including Gene Meyer of the Federalist Society, Ed Meese, and John Eastman, who all sat alongside Thomas on the stage, and then the Justice came up to speak. Before he could get a word out, a woman in the audience called out to him. “Your honor! Your honor!”

Thomas stopped. “Yes?” he asked, simply.

The woman then began to sing, much to the shock and distaste of the audience at first, which would not have been surprised had there been hecklers to disrupt the event. But her singing wasn’t half bad. In fact, after a while, we noticed it was pretty good, and she was singing “You are too marvelous for words.” The audience just looked at one another, while Thomas, silent, stared at the woman, with a slowly growing smile. When she was done, we all couldn’t help ourselves; we burst into applause again.

“Well,” said Thomas, “I’m glad I have the pigmentation I do, because otherwise you would all see me blushing!”

Eastman, meanwhile, was blushing so hard he was hardly distinguishable from the scarlet curtain behind him.

Thomas then started into his brief talk, covering his life and his optimism and explaining why he wrote the book. Thomas has never been an electrifying speaker when reading from a prepared script, but he seems to know this, so he kept his prepared remarks quite brief, and moved on to the questions from the audience. Of these, a few stood out. When asked about how his religious faith affects his performance as a judge, he explained that of course it provides him with strength to worry about his work instead of public acclaim, but he then wound up with, “You know, a lot of the same people who worry that my religious views will dictate my judging are the same people who want me to use the color of my skin to dictate my judging.” That got a loud round of applause (as did virtually everything he said).

One person asked who his favorite authors are and his favorite books. Richard Wright, he said, of course, and Ralph Ellison—not a surprise to longtime admirers of Thomas—but he also likes Louis L’Amour novels. “And I had an Ayn Rand phase, and I still like Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, sorry John...” (turning to Eastman). At this point, I felt the need to represent, so I cheered loudly, bringing another blush to Eastman’s face. (John Eastman is the easiest blushing man who ever lived.) “And I got about 90 percent of the way through Human Action before I gave up,” Thomas continued. “But Mises has a really good short book called Socialism, which is great.”

Asked if he enjoys judging, he answered, “I enjoy sports. I enjoy driving my motor home. Judging is what I do. I get a certain satisfaction from a job well done, but I don’t get up in the morning, ‘Oh boy, I hope we get a death case today!’”

One person asked why he doesn’t ask questions from the bench. A common question, Thomas answered as usual that he doesn’t think questions are really relevant. “This isn’t Perry Mason, you know. All the issues are in the briefs. When I started on the Court, it was a very quiet Court. And Harry Blackmun was very quiet. And when the Court started to ask more questions in his later years, Harry put his arms around me and said, ‘It’s just you and me now, Clarence.’ So nowadays I put my arms around myself and say, ‘It’s just me, Clarence.’”

He was asked what advice he would give high school students. He answered by remembering a sign on the desk of a friend that said “When you don’t know your way, it’s best to ask someone who’s coming back what it was like.” That’s good advice, because your elders are people who know what that road is like. “We’ve all been 17. None of you have been 59. And the second thing I would say is, it’s not all about you!”

I won’t go on too much in this vein, since I believe the Heritage Foundation will be posting video of the event on their website soon. Suffice to say it was a great time, and thanks to John Eastman particularly for helping to organize it and for getting me into the VIP Reception. It was a real blast.

*-All these quotes, of course, are from memory, so they aren't exact.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Justice Thomas in Florida

Justice Thomas made a speech in Florida recently, and several newspapers covered the event. Here's a story from the Palm Beach Post, which also has a video:
When Clarence Thomas grew up in rural 1950s Georgia, he spent a lot of time along U.S. 17, watching cars with out-of-state tags pass through on their way to Florida.

"We wondered what they were doing down here," he recalled today, on a road trip of his own, to pitch his memoir, "My Grandfather's Son."

He was in his 30s before he made it to Florida, leaving Georgia first for the Northeast, to attend Holy Cross and Yale Law School and ultimately making his way through trials and tribulations to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now 59, after 16 years on the high court, Thomas described his journey from poverty in the segregated South as a tale of hope. "Just because it starts off badly, it doesn't have to end that way," he said. He referred to himself as "an ordinary person to whom extraordinary things have happened."

Speaking to a responsive, sellout crowd of more than 700 people, at a luncheon sponsored by the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County Bar Association, he brushed aside media characterizations of himself as "the angriest justice," as the New York Times recently called him.

"I do not intend to answer articles I didn't read and most of which I consider extremely irrelevant," he said.

"I can't afford to be angry," he added several minutes later. "When you're struggling, you can't afford to carry that millstone of anger with you. ÖYou gotta let it go. ÖI say that to younger kids who have issues with their parents: let it go."

Questions from the audience covered a range of issues. As for being considered an anomaly as a black conservative, he said people shouldn't peg ideology to skin color. Where he grew up, people were "traditional" and that's how he views his spot on the political spectrum, he said.

Asked how he can oppose affirmative action programs when he benefited from them in college admissions, he said people should pay more attention to the fact he was always an honor student, one who outperformed almost every other student at Holy Cross and Yale.

Among his other responses:

• Cameras in the courtroom: He expressed concern that they would detract from the process. "The dynamics of the room change when a camera shows up," he said;

• Quiet justice: Asked why he seldom comments or questions from the bench as his colleagues do, he said that historically members of the court did not engage in "this sort of chattering," especially since much of a case has already been hashed out at the appellate level. "The real question should be, 'Why the sudden change?'" he said;

• Racist system: Asked whether the disproportionate number of African-Americans in prison points to a racist system, he said that would be too simplistic an analysis and that more attention should be paid to root causes, from dropout rates to drugs and deterioration of family;

• Qualities of an effective jurist: The baseline is preparation and hard work, but the ability to make a decision is a key, he said. "You cannot have an indecisive judge. You need people who have courage to stand up for the right thing."

• How will history judge him? Whatever historians write about you, he said, "You're not going to be here to read it."
From the Palm Beach Daily News, which covers audience questions as well:
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir (Harper) as a tribute to his grandparents, who, he said, instilled in him good values and a strong work ethic.

He also wrote the book to illustrate that you can overcome bad circumstances — such as growing up in 1950s Georgia amid poverty and segregation.

"It is a universal story of facing difficulties, challenges, enduring them and, hopefully, trying to overcome them," Thomas said. "Is there anybody in this room who's ever had a challenge and said, 'I can't face it?' We've all been there. And there's something inside of us which says 'I can make it.'

"That's what this book is about — that maybe there's a ray of sunlight above these clouds and maybe there'll be another day better than today."

Thomas received a standing ovation upon being introduced to the sold-out crowd of 720 at the luncheon meeting, which was co-sponsored by The Forum Club of the Palm Beaches and the Palm Beach County Bar Association. The event was held at the Kravis Center's Cohen Pavilion.

At age 7, Thomas and his 6-year-old brother were sent to live with his grandparents after his parents divorced and his young mother struggled to raise three children on $10 a week.

Thomas eventually graduated cum laude from Holy Cross College and went on to earn his law degree from Yale Law School.

"The initial writing was to, in so many ways, honor these people," Thomas said. "To give an accurate account of a life, my life, their lives, of the life they gave me. . . . I owed those two wonderful people to let the world know what they had really done. But I also owed people who are alive now, young kids, an explanation of what it took and why it's so important to continue doing well.

"I simply wanted others to see that through difficulties and challenges and criticism and negativism, there's a reason to hope," Thomas said. "It didn't look like there was any reason, but in retrospect there was a reason to hope."

Thomas worked on the book with his wife, Virginia.

"We hoped, Virginia and I, that this book would break through the noise in Washington, that din of ceaseless cynicism and that din of never-ending negativism that we have all too much of in our society," Thomas said. "It is a numbing kind of attitude in the society now. It is a cancer of the spirit, where there's a constant barrage of negativism and cynicism.

"The book is merely to provide some hope to those who would like hope and to provide accuracy about the life of an ordinary person to whom extraordinary things happened and for whom he's grateful to people like his grandparents who played such a major role in making that happen."


Questions posed by audience members to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at the Forum Club Wednesday:

Q: As a person of color growing up during the 1950s, your conservative beliefs seem to be atypical. How did you get your conservative beliefs?

A: I think it's not atypical and that's the point of the book. We are making very general assumptions about people based on the color of their skin. I don't know anything about your views and I will draw no conclusions about what your thoughts are based on the color of your skin. That is precisely what we thought was wrong with the treatment of blacks back in the '60s and '50s. One of the great things about education is it breaks down these stereotypes and prejudices. ... I was raised in south Georgia. And anyone who was raised in south Georgia at that time knows it wasn't called conservatism back then. It was called tradition.

Q: You have expressed opposition to laws that address race-based discrimination in school admissions. Is it your belief you were given unfair advantage when you were admitted to law school?

A: It's in the book and I'm going to leave it there because I'm tired of answering it. That's one more reason that, as a person, I find these programs offensive. I was always an honors student and the one question I'm rarely asked is, 'How is it that coming from where you are, you were consistently throughout your life an honors student and what is it about your life that allowed you to do better than most of your classmates at Yale or better than virtually all of your classmates at Holy Cross?' That is a question that I feel would be more helpful to these young people who are struggling against the odds.

Q: What do you think about broadcasting oral arguments for the Supreme Court?

A: I don't see how it helps our decision-making process. If it's not useful in deciding cases, I don't think we should do it. ... I'm not opposed to it because you don't want people to see what you're doing. There's nothing secret going on, but simply remember what we're there to do.

Q: Meeting you is very different than how the media has portrayed you. Why is there a difference in your persona versus your public persona?

A: I think the question isn't for me. I think the question is for the people who did the distorting. What is their interest in distorting? I know who I am ... and yet people for their own reasons have been hell-bent on creating an image that has nothing to do with me. I might disagree with you on three or four things. But why would you report, for example, that I'm angry, when I'm not angry with anybody? And if I were angry, you would see me angry. But that's just not been the case. Or some say I'm bitter. But what kind of person does it take to write an article like that? That sounds like a bitter, angry person to me.

Q: What qualities make an effective jurist?

A: Preparation, conscientiousness, hard work and some organization, and you also need the ability to actually decide things. You can't have an indecisive judge. . . In the end, you need people who have courage to stand up for the right thing. ... I don't think it's our job to be popular. It's our job to be right.
From the Sun-Sentinel:

WEST PALM BEACH - Recalling his own experiences at televised congressional hearings, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Wednesday that cameras should not be allowed in the nation's highest court.

Stopping in South Florida on a nationwide book tour, Thomas also touched on race in America, judicial pay and his quiet presence on the bench during a question-and-answer session with a crowd of more than 700 at the Kravis Center.

Asked about broadcasting Supreme Court hearings, Thomas, a 16-year court veteran, noted he's testified more than 60 times before congressional committees, where cameras are allowed. Currently, only audio feeds record Supreme Court oral arguments.

"The dynamics of the room change considerably when cameras show up, and they don't change for the better," Thomas said. "I'm concerned it would result in some deterioration of what we do."

Thomas added there's "nothing secret going on" during arguments, but the test for allowing TV cameras should be whether it improves the way the high court conducts its business. "If it doesn't make our processes better, I'm very reluctant to do it," he said. "I simply don't see it improving on the way we do our job."

Thomas, 59, is promoting his new memoir, My Grandfather's Son. Thomas put in frequent plugs for the book, and 300 pre-signed copies were on sale in the lobby for $26.95 each. Event sponsors were the Forum Club and the Palm Beach County Bar Association.

The justice, known as a staunch conservative on the court, tackled some thorny issues during his speaking appearance, including race in America. Asked about high incarceration rates for blacks, Thomas responded that it's an "ostrich-like" approach to blame racism. He said a high dropout rate and a falling marriage rate are factors that don't often get considered because people are afraid of "blaming the victim."

"Let's go back to some of the causes of some of these things, or at least talk about it — you may not solve it," said Thomas, the only black Supreme Court justice. "I don't think we honestly discuss issues of race today."

Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito on Monday dissented from a majority opinion that gave judges more discretion in giving shorter sentences to people convicted of crack cocaine crimes. The decision had a strong racial dimension because the vast majority of crack offenders are black.

The suit-and-tie crowd at Wednesday's lunch warmly applauded Thomas, but some posed pointed questions, too. One asked Thomas whether, given his opposition to affirmative-action policies, he received an "unfair advantage" in his collegiate career at College of the Holy Cross and Yale Law School.

"I'm tired of answering that," Thomas shot back. "One question I've never been asked is ... How was it coming from where you came from [in rural southern Georgia], how were you consistently an honor student?"

Thomas defended his low-key approach to oral arguments. He's famously silent from the bench, as the other eight justices often pepper attorneys with questions during 30-minute oral argument allotments.

"This sort of chattering is all new," he said. "For 200 years, we were able to do it without all these questions ...Why the sudden change? I don't think all those questions are necessary. It's not Perry Mason."

On judicial pay, Thomas said his $195,000 salary is OK for his family, but that salaries for judges and justices that don't compare with private practice are "going to kill off our judiciary." He said judges often make one-tenth what they could earn at law firms.
Finally, from the Associated Press:
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Wednesday that calling the American justice system racist oversimplifies a multifaceted problem, which involves the erosion of the American family, longer sentences and soaring high school dropout rates.

"To simply reduce it all to race is I think to blame reality," Thomas told a group of local leaders, lawyers and high school students.

Thomas, the only black Supreme Court justice, and Justice Samuel Alito on Monday dissented from a majority opinion that gave judges more discretion in giving shorter sentences to people convicted of crack cocaine crimes. The decision had a strong racial dimension because the vast majority of crack offenders are black.

In a broad-ranging question-and-answer session, Thomas also said Wednesday that television cameras should stay out of the Supreme Court's oral arguments and federal judges need higher salaries.

Thomas said cameras could taint the argument process.

"I don't see where it helps," he said. "The dynamics don't change for the better. And I'm concerned that it would actually result in some deterioration of what we do."

Asked why he is generally so quiet on the bench, Thomas said it is not his job to debate, but simply to listen.

"This sort of chattering is all new," he said. "I don't think all those questions are necessary. ... The meat of the case is in the briefs."

* * *

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mike Huckabee on Justice Thomas

From a 1992 questionnaire:
When asked about the nomination hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Huckabee said: "I watched or listened to many hours of the Thomas hearings and was firmly convinced that the preponderance of testimony backed up Clarence Thomas."

Jeffrey Rosen on Justice Thomas

Writing in The New Republic, Jeffrey Rosen has a lengthy and particularly nasty review of Justice Thomas's autobiography here. Sample sentence: "What made Thomas into a sputtering victimology-mongerer, constantly fulminating against his enemies and rehearsing every slight?"

Alan Jacobs responds to the review here:
Jeffrey Rosen’s long essay-review about Clarence Thomas in The New Republic is troubling in several respects -- even for someone who, like me, is not exactly a fan of Thomas’s judicial philosophy. After a great deal of relatively even-handed summary of Thomas’s career, Rosen moves at the end into indictment mode. Here’s a key passage: “We now understand that some of the most memorable passages in his judicial opinions — such as his searing account of the costs of affirmative action, which he calls a ‘faddish slogan of the cognoscenti’ that demeans its intended beneficiaries — are psychological in origin, attempts to get even with the ‘pretty people’ whom he thinks snubbed him in law school.” This is a classic example of the rhetorical move that C. S. Lewis called “Bulverism”: instead of trying to demonstrate that someone is wrong, you assume error and then proceed immediately to a psychological explanation for the error. It may well be that Thomas’s judicial opinions are heavily shaped by his own negative experiences; but that in itself doesn’t make them wrong; nor does Rosen demonstrate that Thomas is unique or even unusual in this respect. Using the logic that Rosen employs here you could with equal ease dismiss the political ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Vaclav Havel or Gandhi.

I also think Rosen too quickly dismisses some of Thomas’s chief frustrations. “Thomas has overcome great hardships,” he writes, “but the world has also been remarkably good to him” — presumably by elevating him to the high status of Supreme Court Justice. In a sense this is true, and one would like to see Thomas acknowledge more often the power and, yes, privilege that has come his way. But I think Rosen seriously underestimates the world’s ability to present honors “in such a way as to render them bitter to the taste” — as Stanley Fish once wrote in a brilliant essay about academic politics. Surely the political world is even more adroit at such barbed recognitions. Thomas writes of his state of mind in 1968, “No matter how hard I worked or how smart I was, any white person could still say to me, ‘Keep on trying, Clarence, one day you will be as good as us,’ knowing that he, not I, would be the judge of that.” Knowing that he, not I, would be the judge of that — that’s the barb. And Rosen should be more cognizant of how sharp that barb can be, even when what the white man grants is a place on the United States Supreme Court.
Ross Douthat adds:
What Alan Jacobs said. I am by no means in the "Clarence Thomas, Real American Hero" camp, and much of Rosen's analysis seems to me astute. But I am persistently puzzled by the unwillingness of white male journalists, in particular - for whom a meritocracy-plus-affirmation action system of advancement provides constant validation, and constant confirmation that they're getting ahead on innate talent and hard work alone - to generate sympathy for a figure like Thomas, who feels, for not-incomprehensible reasons, that his successes have been won (as Jacobs puts it, quoting, Stanley Fish) "in such a way as to render them bitter to the taste." You don't have to like him or agree with him to understand, better than Rosen seems to, where his anger might be coming from.

I would also add, to Rosen's remark that "it is no more possible to feel pity for [Thomas] than for Britney Spears," that the comparison is ridiculous (persecution by the paparazzi is by no means comparable to the combination of segregationist racism, affirmative-action condescension and Uncle-Tom vitriol that has made Thomas the angry man he is today) and that even if it weren't I do feel pity for Britney Spears, and I'm a little puzzled by anyone who doesn't.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Scott Gerber review

Law professor Scott Douglas Gerber -- author of First Principles: The Jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas -- has this review of Justice Thomas's autobiography. Actually, it's more like a review of all the other book reviews out there, which Gerber condemns for being too biased:
Unfortunately, however, almost all of the reaction to Justice Thomas's opinions and votes is partisan. As I detailed in First Principles, commentators are either "for" Justice Thomas or "against" him, in the crassest possible sense. The reaction to Justice Thomas's memoir, My Grandfather's Son, continues this disturbing trend. There are exceptions--David J. Garrow's review for Legal Times stands out among them--but they are few and far between.

Of course, most of the media is liberal. Consequently, the vast majority of the reviews of Justice Thomas's memoir have been negative. Space constraints permit me to discuss only a few.

Washington Post staff writers Michael A. Fletcher and Kevin Merida, co-authors of a recent unauthorized biography about Justice Thomas, didn't even wait until Justice Thomas's memoir was released before trashing it. (They claim to have "purchased" a copy of the book from "an area bookstore" three days prior to its October 1 release.) The opening sentence of their September 29th Post article, written with Robert Barnes, reads: "Justice Thomas settles scores in an angry and vivid forthcoming memoir, scathingly condemning the media, the Democratic senators who opposed his nomination to the Supreme Court, and the 'mob' of liberal elites and activist groups that he says desecrated him."

It's downhill from there. Most troubling is their comment that Justice Thomas "indicates he wrote [the book] himself." Who else do Fletcher, Merida, and Barnes think would have written it? To the best of my knowledge, reviewers don't make observations like that about books written by other Supreme Court justices.

* * *

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Toobin, author of a recent book about the Supreme Court, describes in a review published in The New Yorker how "Thomas's career looks like a model of how affirmative action is supposed to work, but that isn't how Thomas sees it." The review, entitled "Unforgiven: Why is Clarence Thomas so angry?," is accompanied by one of The New Yorker's famous illustrations. This one: a caricature of a "seething" Thomas.

Toobin gives Thomas little credit for earning on the merits his appointments as chairman of the E.E.O.C., judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and justice of the Supreme Court. Instead, Toobin asserts that Thomas was "given" each job "because he was black." For example, Toobin writes the following in discussing Thomas's appointment to the D.C. Circuit: "Just forty-one years old, Thomas had never tried a case, or argued an appeal, in any federal court, much less in the high-powered D.C. Circuit; the last time Thomas had appeared in any courtroom was when he was a junior attorney in Missouri; he had never produced any scholarly work; his tenure at the EEOC, although respectable, did not mark him as a notable innovator in the federal bureaucracy. He was, in short, a black conservative in an Administration with very few of them. That's why he got the job."

What Toobin fails to mention is that, by 1989, Thomas already had established himself as the leading government authority in the United States on the document that articulates the political philosophy of our nation, the Declaration of Independence. Although Toobin might not characterize Thomas's speeches and articles on the relationship between the Declaration and the Constitution as "scholarly work"--assuming Toobin bothered to read them at all--the conservative legal movement certainly did. And while Toobin might try to downplay Thomas's eight-plus years of service at the EEOC --hardly a "modest federal agency," as Toobin calls it--President George H.W. Bush obviously disagreed. So, too, did the United States Senate, which confirmed, by voice vote, the President's nomination of Thomas to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Personally, as someone who has spent a large portion of his own professional life writing about the role of the Declaration of Independence in constitutional interpretation, I consider Clarence Thomas to have been the most qualified person President Bush could have appointed to the nation's highest court. Of course, this doesn't mean that race wasn't a factor in Thomas's appointment to the D.C. Circuit, let alone to the Supreme Court. But what it does mean is that Thomas had achieved far more during his professional career by both 1989, when he was nominated to the D.C. Circuit, and 1991, the year of his Supreme Court appointment, than liberal critics such as Toobin are willing to concede. Indeed, upon a fairer examination, Thomas's credentials compare quite well with those of other jurists who likewise have served on the D.C. Circuit and/or the Supreme Court during the past twenty years.

* * *

he list of negative reviews from the Left goes on--and some on the list make the reviews by Fletcher, Merida, and Barnes; Merida alone; and Toobin look judicious by comparison. For example, Jon Weiner writes in The Nation that Justice Thomas's memoir is a "howl of rage and pain"; Eugene Robinson opines in The Washington Post that "the presence of Justice Clarence Thomas on the U.S. Supreme Court" is a powerful argument against affirmative action; and The New York Times, which has a history of editorializing against Justice Thomas, maintains that the "rage he harbors raises questions about whether he can sit as an impartial judge in many of the cases the Supreme Court hears."

* * *

I have devoted a surprising amount of time since the publication of my book about Justice Thomas's jurisprudence to trying to persuade people that it's possible to be neither "for" Justice Thomas nor "against" him. My objective is simply to read what he writes and do my best to assess it objectively. Sometimes this means I agree with him, and sometimes it means I disagree. Justice Thomas once paid me the highest compliment a scholar can receive when he stated publicly that he understands what I'm attempting to do.

This said, I must say that, to me, much of the reaction from the Left to Justice Thomas's memoir crosses the line of common decency. It's certainly permissible to disagree with Justice Thomas's judicial opinions. As I mentioned above, I sometimes do. However, it's not appropriate to express that disagreement through ad hominem attacks.

My Grandfather's Son is a moving portrait of a man who has overcome more obstacles than all of his critics combined. Of course, I reserve the right to continue to disagree with some of the opinions Justice Thomas issues on the Supreme Court. What I refuse to do, however, is to try to trivialize the remarkable life he has led.

Justice Thomas is not perfect, and he acknowledges as much in his book. His defenders need to stop suggesting he is beyond fault. His critics need to stop pretending they aren't.

Friday, November 30, 2007

What Justice Thomas Really Thinks About Oral Argument

From US News and World Report:
There's a reason why Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas doesn't talk much from the bench: He thinks judges should be seen and not heard. "My colleagues should shut up!" he says. * * *

Asked at an event honoring Winston Churchill sponsored by independent Michigan school Hillsdale College if he would talk more from the bench to "give us relief" from the other chatty judges, Thomas said, "I don't think it's my job to give you relief." Thomas noted that through history, most top judges rarely asked questions. "What's changed? Have the laws changed? What's changed? And why are all these questions necessary? That should be the question," he demanded of the near epidemic level of judicial questioning at Supreme Court hearings.

He later characterized his "shut up" comment as simply "shock value," but then dug deeper into the issue. "I think that they should ask questions, but I don't think that for judging, and for what we are doing, all those questions are necessary," he said. "You don't have to ask all those questions to judge properly." Thomas compared judging to another profession where debate isn't aired in public. "Suppose you're undergoing something very serious like surgery and the doctors started a practice of conducting seminars while in the operating room, debating each other about certain procedures and whether or not this procedure is this way or that way. You really didn't go in there to have a debate about gallbladder surgery. You actually went in to have a procedure done. We are judges. This is the last court in a long line in our system. We are there to decide cases, not to engage in seminar discussions. Now, each of us has a different way of thinking about things. Some people like to talk it out. Some people enjoy the questioning and the back and forth. Some people think that if they listen deeply and hear the people who are presenting their arguments, they might hear something that's not already in several hundred pages of records."

Thomas said that once the cases get to the Supreme Court, there are no surprises left. "This is not Perry Mason."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Justice Clarence Thomas at the Federalist Society Convention

Here's his speech delivered on November 15, 2007:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Justice Clarence Thomas at the Heritage Foundation

A speech from Nov. 12, 2007:

Elsewhere on YouTube,

Justice Thomas speaks in Chicago, Part I:

Justice Thomas speaks in Chicago, Part II:

Laura Ingraham talks to Bill O'Reilly about Justice Thomas:

Sean Hannity talks to Justice Thomas, Part I:

Hannity, Part II:

Hannity, Part III:

Robert Bluey on Justice Thomas

Robert Bluey has this column:
Ask Clarence Thomas what he enjoys doing and he’ll tell you about driving his RV across America or cheering for his beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers. That hardly sounds like the life of a U.S. Supreme Court justice, but in the case of Thomas, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

With his new memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son,” topping the New York Times best-seller list, Thomas has had the opportunity to connect with “real” Americans -- ordinary citizens who, he says, embody the true spirit of our great nation. His book tour has taken him from the East Coast to the Midwest and will reach Southern California next month.

Along the way, I’ve been fortunate to hear him speak twice -- once at a private dinner for bloggers and again last week at an event sponsored by The Heritage Foundation. I left both events feeling inspired and energized by Thomas’ positive attitude, sound advice and commitment to principles.

I wish every American had the opportunity to engage with Thomas in the same way. Hearing him speak about his remarkable life not only dispels the misperceptions painted by the media, but it also yields valuable insights about humanity and the state of our nation

My encounters with Thomas have produced some important lessons. The one that stood out last week came from his answer to a question about the level of political discourse in Washington -- something that has frustrated me since I arrived here six years ago. If anyone is qualified to answer this question, it’s Thomas, who called his confirmation hearing in 1991 a “high-tech lynching.”

Thomas chose to tell us about the importance of manners in society, particularly when raising children. For whatever reason, Washington politicians appear to lack those manners -- contributing to the coarse nature of politics.

“People in this town think it’s really cute to make little, nasty comments about people,” Thomas told the crowd last week. “That really makes you a big person because you just came up with some cute slur. That’s what gets over in this town for being genius.”

He said it would be unthinkable for such conduct to be tolerated in other professions. Take a hospital operating room, for example. “You would figure out a way to limp out of there, crawl or feel your way out. Now, if we would not allow that in the operating room, why do we think that’s a good way to choose who will have control of our nuclear arsenal?”

* * *

Friday, November 16, 2007

Justice Thomas at the Federalist Society Convention

The Washington Post has this story, which is accompanied by this video:

Among friends, Thomas felt comfortable to air his many long-standing grievances with the world. "So much has been written about me, and most of it's wrong," he lamented. He protested "the monopoly of certain organizations and certain groups and media types" in Washington. He chafed at the notion of affirmative action at Yale Law School ("What were the benefits?" he asked. "Student loans?"). He sounded defensive when speaking about his silences: "One thing I've demonstrated in 16 years is you can do this job without asking a single question."
The Legal Times had this report of the event:
"I've been on the Court for 16 years -- it's kind of hard to say that. It's like, what happened to my life? Do I even have a life?" mused Justice Clarence Thomas in his address at the Federalist Society's 25th anniversary conference in Washington, D.C., Thursday.

Fifteen years earlier, he had addressed this same group, the Federalist Society, in the same ballroom in the Mayflower Hotel. And he said he was pleased to be back to talk about his recent memoir, "My Grandfather's Son."

"One of the reasons I wrote this book is that so much has been written about me, and most of it is wrong. Even when they mean well, it's still wrong," Thomas said.

The book chronicles in detail his path to the Supreme Court, revisiting his upbringing in Georgia, his years at Yale Law School, and his acid confirmation hearings. Thomas said he wanted to share his side, but also inspire others. And maybe warn them, too. He recounted how a Vietnamese woman and a black man had separately approached him after reading the book. Both had thanked him for telling their stories.

"There's so much about hope that is universal," he said.

Thomas took several questions written on note cards, beginning with this one: Is the job as wonderful as you thought it would be?

"First of all," Thomas said, "I never thought it would be wonderful. And second, I never thought about it. I was too busy trying to stay alive."

"You know, I have fun on my RV. I have fun watching football. This is more important than fun," Thomas said. "It's more in the nature of a mission."

At one point, he was asked, "Why do your colleagues ask so many questions during oral arguments?"

"I did not plant that question," the justice swore. "When you figure it out, let me know."

Thomas is the least chatty of the nine justices. He has said he prefers to let lawyers lay out their arguments with few interruptions, though some have interpreted his reticence as indifference.

"One thing I learned in the last 16 years is that you can do this job without asking a single question," Thomas said, to rousing applause.

Someone asked Thomas what he thought about the confirmation process for federal judges.

Thomas, recalling that the late Supreme Court Justice Byron White had told him he was nominated and confirmed in 10 days, said, "Now, if that system worked for 200 years, why did we change it?"

Another card asked in which environment he did his best thinking. "I think pretty well every place," Thomas said. "I try to be sober as a judge."

Thomas, straightening up, answered that he wrote the bulk of his book in his study at home. And when he's not alone, Thomas said he likes to test his thinking on others. In his chambers: "I love talking to my law clerks." In public: "I love talking to people on the streets, in Wal-Mart parking lots."

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Emmett Tyrell on Justice Thomas

Emmett Tyrell has an excellent review of Justice Clarence Thomas's new autobiography, and makes a good point about the dramatic dropoff in media coverage:
A few weeks back when Clarence Thomas's My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir first came out, there was a flurry of commentary on him and the book. From conservatives there was praise. From the liberals there was a vaguely concealed sense of shock. To them, he seemed sooo angry. Wait a minute. I thought they admired anger. Think of their approbation of the Angry Left. Now the hubbub has quieted down. In fact the book is hardly mentioned. This is typical of the circumstances today surrounding the publication of books. When a book that somehow matters comes out, there is a transient period of excitement, a mixture of hallelujahs or spitballs -- then complete silence.

* * *

If it is very good, a book should provoke thought and comment for a long while after its publication. In the case of Thomas's memoir, I shall be thinking about it and referring to it for a long time. It is one of the best books I have read in years.

* * *

All that the liberals reviewing this book have been able to talk about is its anger. Frankly, I saw very little anger. One of the amazing things about Thomas is his disposition. He is positive, resolute, profoundly decent, and cheerful. That the liberals miss this comes as no surprise. They are increasingly narrow. Thomas admits his failures and forgives his enemies. This is because Thomas is a profoundly religious man, who throughout his life has turned to prayer. My Grandfather's Son is a book about many things, among them spirituality, conservative ideas, modern politics, and race. In fact, Thomas's account of race in modern America is the most reliable I have ever read. Thomas has suffered prejudice from Southern bigots, from other blacks, and to this day from liberals of both races. He writes about it with no ax to grind but with a positive message to impart: one can suffer enormous injustice and not let the (expletive deleted) get you down. This is not a book about anger. It is a book about the satisfied triumph of a good man.

Review of Justice Thomas Book

Not of the new autobiography, however. It's a review, just published in the liberal Commonweal magazine, of Kevin Merida's and Michael Fletcher's Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas, which was published seven months ago.

The review was written by Don Wycliff. Commonweal's website helpfully informs us that "Don Wycliff, a black man, is editorial page editor of the Chicago Tribune." It's nice to be informed of that fact; otherwise, one might have assumed that Wycliff is white, as are the overwhelming majority of Commonweal's contributors.

In any event, it's a decent, albeit entirely uncritical, review. My main objections are to the opening paragraph:
His wrenching, soul-searing confirmation hearing notwithstanding, Clarence Thomas is so little known to most Americans that almost any decent biography of him would seem revelatory. Kevin Merida and Michael Fletcher’s study of the man known as the “silent justice” of the U.S. Supreme Court is better than decent. It is deeply and carefully reported (though without the benefit of Thomas’s authorization or assistance), and written in measured, lucid, unbiased prose.
That "almost any decent biography" line seems a bit odd; it's as if Wycliff doesn't know that a much better and more thorough biography of Thomas was published several years ago (by Andrew Peyton Thomas).

Worse, the reviewer is overestimating the book's worth in that last sentence. As Orin Kerr points out:
I recently finished the book, and my take is mixed. The book's first half, which mostly covers Thomas's childhood and family, is pretty interesting. Merida & Fletcher interviewed tons of people, and the book offers lots information on Thomas that is hard to find elsewhere. The book goes downhill in the second half, which is more on Thomas as an adult and as a judge. Merida & Fletcher are not lawyers, and they tend to see conservative legal views as an expression of lack of sympathy for others. As a result, they get wrapped up in questions that will strike sophisticated readers as quite silly (such as, how could Justice Thomas be such a nice guy personally and yet endorse such uncaring views of the law?).
And as I've said before, the book's entire chapter on Thomas's silence at oral argument seems particularly unnecessary and unfair.

But enough bashing. The Commonweal review also makes some valuable points that are usually lost in the mainstream media:
Truth to tell, on some real political/judicial issues the gulf between Thomas and his prominent black critics is probably wider than that between Thomas and the ordinary black person. Take school desegregation and busing, for example. For most black people, there was a very practical logic behind school desegregation: The white majority will always make sure that their children receive what they need to get a proper education, so the best way to assure an equal education for black children is to make sure they are in the same schools and classrooms. At some point, however-and at least partly owing to the reasoning on which the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision was based-the established black leadership began speaking of desegregation and integration interchangeably, as an ideal to be celebrated for its own sake and worth pursuing regardless of the cost.

The cost, as often as not, was long bus trips for black children in pursuit of fleeing whites. If segregating black children because their race inflicted a sense of inferiority so grievous as to be, in the words of the Brown decision, “unlikely ever to be undone,” what would be the effect of chasing whites over ever-greater distances in the interest of an integrated-and thus, putatively equal-education? (Whites were, more often than not, able to arrange things so that their children did not have to ride those buses.)

Thomas considers that sort of thing foolish and he said as much when Ben Carson, the famous black neurosurgeon, confronted him on some of his controversial views. “I had heard what everyone else had: ‘This guy is a sellout. He doesn’t care about black issues,’” Carson told Merida and Fletcher. “But as I got to know him, I saw this was a complete lie.”

Hillsdale Interview with Justice Thomas

From the website of Hillsdale College:
A Conversation with Justice Clarence Thomas

The following is excerpted and edited from an interview with Justice Thomas conducted in his chambers at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on September 19, 2007. Conducting the interview were Kaitlyn Buss, Daniel Burfiend, and Jillian Melchior, Hillsdale College seniors from the Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism and the History and Political Science Department. Also present were Hillsdale president Larry Arnn and Hillsdale vice president and Imprimis editor Douglas Jeffrey.

The Honorable Clarence Thomas has been an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court since 1991. Prior to that he served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and as assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education. Justice Thomas graduated cum laude from the College of the Holy Cross and earned a J.D. from Yale Law School before entering legal practice as assistant attorney general of Missouri and, later, as an attorney with the Monsanto Company. His new book is entitled My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir.

Q: Why did you decide to write My Grandfather’s Son?

CT: I’ve met with young people from all over the country, from different backgrounds—some with privileged backgrounds and some with less privileged backgrounds—and they all have tough problems, challenges and uncertainties in their lives. And often they think that I grew up wise and had a plan in life to get where I have gotten—that I had no doubts and uncertainties myself. Well, the truth is that I had plenty of uncertainties and doubts, and this book is my story. I was proud when my editor called me as the book was being finalized and said: “The great thing about this book is that it’s not the usual Washington book. It’s yours; you wrote it.” In fact, I did write it. And my hope is that young people who read it will find something in it they can identify with and learn from.

Q: I’ve noticed that you have a theme in your speeches about people who have influenced you, and now you’re trying to influence others in a similar way. Can you talk a little about who influenced you?

CT: The first line in the book is, “I was nine years old when I met my father.” That refers to my biological father. But my grandfather was my real father. I named the book My Grandfather’s Son because that’s who I am. My grandfather and my grandmother influenced me and made me what I am today. That’s why I always take offense when I hear it said that Yale or some other institution is responsible. I was already fully formed by my grandparents. Whatever was poured into this vessel came from their way of life, and from my grandfather’s independence, his insistence on self-sufficiency, his desire to think for himself even in the segregated South.

My father left when I was two, and up there on the wall you can see a photograph by Walker Evans of the Savannah neighborhood where my mother, my brother and I lived in one room. It doesn’t look like much of a neighborhood, does it? And when I went to live with my grandfather, I was seven. His name was Myers Anderson. And it was a different way of life that he had worked hard to make possible. He built his house, a cinderblock house. He made the cinderblocks. And he was proud of that. It had a refrigerator, a deep freezer, a hot water heater—I had never seen any of these things in my life. It was wonderful. And then he taught me the connection between having these things and work. Everything he had, he showed me how to get it the honest way.

One of my grandfather’s favorite sayings was, “Old Man Can’t is dead, I helped bury him.” I must have heard that a hundred times. Today we’ve grown comfortable with programs and theories, whether it’s affirmative action or something else. Centralized governments always love grand theories and five-year-plans. But no government program could have done what my grandfather did for me and for others who needed help. It’s the golden rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The golden rule can’t operate through a government program, it can only work between people.

I was talking to my brother once—my brother died eight years ago very suddenly, which was really devastating—but we were talking and we agreed that my grandfather was the greatest person we had ever known. And mind you, as young people there came a time that we rejected him. But he told us the truth about life. He taught us everything we needed to know to live in this world. And it remained with us. Even when people ask about my judicial philosophy, I can honestly say, to the extent I have one, it comes from my grandfather.

Q: In the photo of your grandfather, he looks like a very serious man. What was he like personally?

CT: Yes, he was serious, and he was tough. He wasn’t a mean man, but he was a hard man. He lived a hard life, and he was hardened by it. His life was marked by segregation, by no education, by having no father, by having his mother die when he was nine and going to live with his grandmother who was a freed slave. In a recent book, the authors said my grandfather was a wealthy man. And one of my cousins said when he heard this, “Has anybody found the money?” My grandfather owned two trucks and delivered fuel oil with one and ice with the other. His only employees were my brother and me, and we were little kids. Anything that he could do to make a living he did. And when the ice business was displaced by the refrigerator, we started farming. We repaired our own vehicles, we farmed our own land, we built our own fence line. We raised hogs, chickens, cows, and we butchered them. So he was not rich, no. But he was a frugal, industrious man. He believed that if you worked hard enough, you could have what you needed. If you were frugal enough, you could keep what you had. And if you had things, you could help other people who were in need. He believed that you work from sun to sun, and that was our life due to our fallen nature. Another of his favorite sayings was, “There’s nothing you can’t do with a little elbow grease.”

And the idea of taxation offended him. My first ideas about taxation had to do with the fact that we worked for everything we had. My grandfather would give whatever he could to relatives who needed it—to the elderly, to people with a lot of kids, to people who had fallen on hard times. We’d harvest food and take it to folks who needed it. But the idea of someone coming and exacting from us what we had worked for, he was offended at that idea.

Q: You mentioned that you had uncertainties and doubts and that you rejected your grandfather at some point. How did the lessons that he taught you carry you through?

CT: I went into the seminary at 16, intending to be a priest. During my last two years there, I was the only black student. I was raised Roman Catholic, and I am Roman Catholic today. But I got angry back in the 1960s. I turned my back on what I had been taught and I fell away from my faith. When I left the seminary my grandfather kicked me out of the house. So I’ve been on my own since I was 19. And then I was really angry. I got caught up in the anti-war movement in New England. I was really an angry black kid. And then in April of 1970, I was caught up in a riot in Harvard Square. At one point it was four in the morning and we were rioting, and there were tear gas canisters going off. And we made our way back to Worcester, back to the Holy Cross campus where I was going to college, and I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking, “What did I just do?” I couldn’t figure it out. And then suddenly I realized that I was full of hate. I remember going in front of the chapel and saying, “Lord, if you take this anger out of my heart, I’ll never hate again.” I hadn’t prayed in years, and that was the beginning of my process back. I went from anger and hatred to cynicism, and then to trying to figure things out. And over the years I came to see cynicism as a disease. So what I tell my clerks today is that I’m more idealistic than I’ve ever been. That’s the only reason to do the job. But it was a long struggle. I was something like the prodigal son, slowly making my way back to what I had abandoned.

The hardest part of my book to write had to do with the fact that I had been so angry and bitter—angry at whites, angry at the country, rejecting the church. But finally there came a time when I was at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—it was in February of 1983—and my grandmother was ill. And I saw my grandfather at the hospital and we embraced for the only time in our entire lives. And he looked at me and said that he had recognized that part of the conflict I had been through with him was that I was just like him, independent and strong-willed. I was his son, and it was as though you could see it in his eyes. And then a month later he was dead. And it was at that time—the spring and summer of 1983—that I re-embraced all that he had taught me. I had come full circle. And it was that summer that I decided I would live my life as a memorial to my grandparents’ lives. That’s why I was so upset during my confirmation hearings, because I saw what was being done to me as a desecration of that memorial. Ever since then, when people say that I’m a conservative or that I’m this or that, I say, “I’m my grandfather’s son.” If that means I am conservative, so be it.

Q: A lot of people tend to define you by your race and you don’t seem to. Why do you think that is?

CT: We’ve become very comfortable with making judgments about people based on immutable characteristics. And look what we’ve degenerated to—look what happened to the Duke lacrosse team, where because there are rich white boys and a poor black girl, so many people assumed an automatic narrative. What happens to the truth, then? How is that different from the stereotypes of the days of Jim Crow? I often say, “I don’t hire women law clerks.” People are shocked. But I don’t hire women law clerks—I hire the best law clerks. And it turns out that 30 percent of them happen to be women. If a woman graduates from law school and I say I’m going to hire her because I need a woman, that seems to me dehumanizing, and the job would be tainted. That’s my attitude.

Q: Do you think we ever will see each other as individuals?

CT: We used to have that as a goal when I was a kid and when we lived under segregation. And by the way, something that we often forget is that even under segregation, we were really patriotic. When I came back home with all that anti-war talk in the ’60s, my grandfather’s response was: “Boy I didn’t raise you like this. You went up North and they put all that damned foolishness in your head.” But my point is, I was raised to treat people as individuals. My grandfather would say about whites, “There’s good’ns, there’s bad’ns.” And about blacks, “There’s good’ns, there’s bad’ns.” The difference was good and bad, not black and white. And treating others and being treated ourselves as individuals was our goal.

I went to a seminary reunion about four years ago, and a white seminarian who was a year ahead of me in high school came up to me and said—here he is, almost 60 years old, and he had tears in his eyes—and he said, “Clarence, you taught me something in high school. You taught me that someone who didn’t look like me could be a better seminarian, a better person, a better athlete than I could.” And he said, “From the time I left the seminary, I’ve always treated people as individuals.” That was our goal back then.

Q: If you were talking to a group of college students and you were to give them the most important lesson that you learned from your grandfather, what would it be?

CT: There may be a disconnect between my world and yours, because when my grandfather was raising me, people didn’t talk about their rights so much. They talked about civil rights, yes, but they didn’t simply talk about rights and freedom. They talked more about the responsibilities that came with freedom—about the fact that if you were to have freedom, you had to be responsible for it. What my grandfather believed was that people have their responsibilities, and that if they are left alone to fulfill their responsibilities, that is freedom. Honesty and responsibility, those are the things he taught.

It’s the same thing in civil society. We’re too focused on the benefits of a civil society and we think too little about the obligations we have—the obligations to be civil, to learn about our history and our government, to conduct ourselves in a disciplined way, to help others, to take care of our homes. Too many conversations today have to do with rights and wants. There is not enough talk about responsibilities and duties.

Q: How do you think people in today’s generation can learn that kind of philosophy with such different upbringings and such a different culture?

CT: We all make choices. My wife is my best friend in the whole world. And she had a totally different upbringing from mine, but we have the same beliefs. How? I don’t think it’s necessarily the same upbringing that makes the difference. We have free will. We always have a choice between just doing whatever we feel like doing and doing what we are obligated to do. I’ve got a strong libertarian streak, but a good lesson I’ve learned is this: You can’t choose right and wrong, you’ve got to choose between right and wrong. There’s a wonderful encyclical by Pope John Paul where he talks about the mistake that Adam and Eve made. They thought they could choose right and wrong as opposed to choosing between the two. Modern nihilists and relativists think that we can decide or make up right and wrong. People like my grandfather understood that there was right and wrong, as certain as that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. And they made their choices between the two. I think anyone today can do the same thing.

Q: There seems to be a lot of negativity toward you in books and in the media. Is that lonely? And if so, how do you deal with it?

CT: When people used to criticize my grandfather, he’d say: “Well then, dammit, they’ve got a lifetime to get pleased.” That was it. He never spent any more time on it. Have you ever read the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson from 1896? That’s the case that upheld the idea of “separate but equal.” There was one dissent in that case, the dissent by Justice Harlan, who argued that the Constitution is colorblind. How lonely do you think he was after he wrote that? Do you think he was popular? It doesn’t mean he wasn’t right. I never set out to be unpopular, but popularity isn’t of high value to me. I set out to do my best to be right. I am who I am.

Q: What is your purpose in writing your opinions?

CT: What I try to do first in my opinions is to apply the Constitution. But also, I look on the Constitution as the people’s Constitution. And so I try to make the Constitution accessible again to people who didn’t go to Harvard Law School. Of course, some of it gets involved because you have to deal with a lot of case law. But I want people to understand what the cases are about.

As for how I think about my opinions, imagine a train with 100 cars. The cars are the previous cases dealing with some issue—the meaning of the Commerce Clause, for instance, or of the First Amendment. Often what our decisions do is just tack on a new caboose to the train, and that’s it. But here’s what I like to do: I like to walk through the 100 cars and see what’s going on up front. I like to go back to the Constitution, looking at the history and tradition along the way. Because what if there’s a flashing light on the dashboard up front that says “wrong direction”? What if we’re headed the wrong way?

My job is to apply the Constitution. And here’s a useful lesson: You hear people talk all the time about the Bill of Rights. But you should always keep in mind that the Bill of Rights was an afterthought. That’s why it’s made up of what are called amendments. It was not in the original Constitution. The rights in the Bill of Rights were originally assumed as natural rights, and some people at the time thought that writing them into the Constitution was redundant. Read the Declaration of Independence. We should always start, when we read the Constitution, by reading the Declaration, because it gives us the reasons why the structure of the Constitution was designed the way it was. And with the Constitution, it was the structure of the government that was supposed to protect our liberty. And what has happened through the years is that the protections afforded by that structure have been dissipated. So my opinions are often about the undermining of those structural protections.

People need to know about that. Many might say, “Well, they are writing about the Commerce Clause, and nobody cares about that.” But they should care about it. The same is true of the doctrine of incorporation. The same is true of substantive due process. People should care about these things. And I try to explain why clearly in my opinions.

Q: In your opinion in Morse v. Frederick—which had to do with whether a student had a right to hold up a sign saying “Bong Hits for Jesus”—you talk about the history of education, and about instilling a core of common values and how that’s a responsibility of schools. How do you respond to people who say that there isn’t a common set of values that schools should instill—that morality is relative?

CT: I did look at history, and more people should. There was an article in the Washington Times just today on how poorly our kids today understand civics. The title of it is: “Colleges Flunking Basic Civics Tests, Average is F in U.S. History.” There is our problem: We think we know a lot about our rights, but we know nothing about our country and about the principles that our liberty is based on and depends on.

Have you ever read Modern Times, by Paul Johnson? I read it back in the ’80s. It’s long, but it’s really worth the effort. One point it makes clearly is the connection between relativism, nihilism, and Naziism. The common idea that you can do whatever you want to do, because truth and morality are relative, leads to the idea that if you are powerful enough you can kill people because of their race or faith. So ask your relativist friends sometime: What is to keep me from getting a gang of people together and beating the hell out of you because I think you deserve to be beaten? Too many people think that life and liberty are about their frivolous pleasures. There is more to life. And again, largely what relativism reflects is simply a lack of learning.

Q: I read a quote where you said that you don’t argue ideas with brutes. Who were you referring to?

CT: Can a diehard Packers fan have a civil conversation with a diehard Bears fan right after a close game? That’s what I’m talking about. There are some people now who are so wrapped up in their interests that that’s all they care about. They don’t even read the opinions that I write. It is their interests that govern them, not the thought process or the Constitution. They’ve got to have their way or they’ll kill you—not physically, necessarily, but certainly with calumnies. There are people today who seem unable to transcend their interests to the point necessary to have a civil discourse.

CT: My grandfather was a man who understood implicitly, without education, what it meant to do right—as a citizen, as a father, as a person. This was a man who had every reason to be bitter—who wasn’t. A man who had every reason to give up—who didn’t. A man who had every reason to stop working—who wouldn’t. He was a man who had nothing but a desire to work by the sweat of his brow so that he could provide for those of us around him, and to pass on to us his idea of right. Another thing he said always stuck with me. When my brother and I went to live with him in 1955 as kids, he told us: “Boys, I’m never going to tell you to do as I say. I’m going to tell you to do as I do.” How many people can say that? And I asked my brother once, “Did he ever fail to live up to his promise?” No.

Q: Where do you think that you find the courage to make the unpopular stands that you do?

CT: I take my clerks to Gettysburg every year. They go over to stand where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. Do you know that speech? He left it for us, the living, to finish the business. I take that very seriously. And my clerks get the point. We are here to further the business that Lincoln was talking about. And then you think also about the people who lost their lives there. Was that in vain? Will we allow the people who have fought our wars for our liberty to have died in vain? In recent years I’ve had some wounded vets here in my office, young kids who have come back from Iraq missing limbs, blinded, in wheelchairs. And people say that I take hits? Do I look wounded to you? These kids have given a lot more. What a price people have paid for us to be right here. I think of them like I think of my grandparents. One of the things I’m always trying to do is to make sure that everything they did was worth it—that if they were to appear right now they would say, “You’ve made our sacrifices worth it.” That’s all I want.

The Prayers of Clarence Thomas

An article from the American Thinker:
But the media has largely overlooked another crucial aspect of the story: the role of prayer in Thomas's life. Perhaps because the media remains uncomfortable with public displays of faith, or simply because they don't get it, the word "prayer," does not appear in either the Post's or the New York Times' reviews of "My Grandfather's Son."

That is a curious omission, given the decisive place Thomas gives specific prayers in the narrative and the window that his choices open onto his character and life.

* * *
A very interesting article that discusses several prayers that Justice Thomas mentions in his autobiography.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Former Senator Jack Danforth on Clarence Thomas

Newsbusters interviewed former Senator Jack Danforth, who helped Justice Thomas's nomination, and who later wrote a book about that ordeal ("Resurrection").
Now that Thomas has been reintroduced to the public by way of his new memoirs it is evident the media remain highly antagonistic to him, former Senator John Danforth has observed. The Missouri Republican is a long-time friend and mentor to Thomas. He played an instrumental role in securing confirmation 16 years ago.

"His media detractors portray him as some angry person, brooding quietly in the Supreme Court," Danforth said in an interview. "Well if you go to the Supreme Court building and talk to the people who work there you will find he's the most popular person in the building."

A Nexis search for news articles describing Thomas as being either "angry" or "bitter" in the monthly period immediately following the release of his book pulled up over 200 results.

This media portrait is out of step with reality Danforth argued.

"His detractors are going to savage him regardless of what he does," he said. "For years they savaged him for being silent, now that he's written a book and been on TV they savage him for being outspoken."

Those who know Thomas well are immune to the media distortion, Danforth said. This is true of friends and even colleagues who do not share his ideology, the former senator explained.

"I was at a White House dinner going back about four or five years and one of the most liberal justices on the Supreme Court was sitting at the same table where I was and this justice came up to me and said `thank you for giving us Clarence Thomas.' Now that was a liberal justice, it shows the degree of respect for him and affection, even from people who don't share his particular jurisprudence."

Monday, November 5, 2007

An Open Letter to Bill Cosby

From Dutch Martin:
Dear Dr. Cosby:

I've always been a huge fan of your work as an entertainer, philanthropist, family man and example of what can be accomplished with hard work, sacrifice and a love of learning.

I supported your crusade to encourage low-income blacks to stop being victims and take responsibility for their own lives. Your message emphasizing parental responsibility rings truer now than ever before. I also recently rushed out to buy the new book you co-authored with Dr. Alvin Pousssaint, Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors.

Having said all this, I am deeply disappointed by your remarks about U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas on a recent edition of CNN's "Larry King Live." In particular, the following exchange makes me regret my purchase and clouds any future support of you: . . . .

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Book Review

A good book review from a blogger:
I rarely stay up till wee-hours in the morning reading a book, but I did so last night. At 1:30 a.m., I finished reading the final words in Clarence Thomas’ My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Justice Thomas and a Georgia Interstate

Some news from Georgia:
Savannah Interchange Would Be Named For Justice Clarence Thomas

(11/1/07) Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, will propose next year naming the I-95 and I-16 interchange in Chatham County for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

“Thomas has defended the U.S. Constitution from attack and protected the precious liberties of every American,” Johnson said. “This interchange should proudly display the name of our native son.”

Thomas was born in Pin Point, Ga., which is in Johnson’s senatorial district.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Justice Thomas in Baltimore

Thanks to Howard Bashman, here's the Washington Post on Justice Clarence Thomas's visit to Baltimore, complete with a short video:

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Blog Items

From around the blog world:

1. A nice picture of Justice Clarence Thomas signing books in Dallas.

2. One blogger's account of seeing Justice Thomas speak:
On Sunday night, I attended a joint Heritage Foundation-Federalist Society event celebrating the publication of Clarence Thomas's memoirs. I have not yet read My Grandfather's Son, but I look forward to doing so, especially after Justice Thomas's talk.

The Justice stressed to an audience of nearly a thousand people that he was able to overcome a life of tremendous difficulties and challenges thanks to the mentoring and example of the nuns who taught him, the people of his hometown who urged him to get an education--because "once you get that in your head, no one can take it away"--and because of his grandfather's admonition to always "put one foot in front of another." The striking thing about the Justice's comments was that his life, while ultimately tremendously successful personally, was never planned. He encountered a series of failures that led to sterling triumphs. It is utterly fascinating that as he was sitting on the Court of Appeals, just before he was nominated to the Supreme Court, he was still plotting how he could get himself back to Georgia.
3. Another blogger's reaction to the autobiography:
There are two books I couldn't finish reading. The writing was too powerful and too moving.

The one I put down yesterday, Clarence Thomas' My Grandfather's Son and the other I put down years ago, Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters.

I can not explain in words the power either of these books had on me but the tears in my eyes, swelling up page after page and the anguish I felt made it impossible to continue reading. I can not bear my own suffering as I connect with the truth these two men speak.

Friday, October 26, 2007

My Grandfather's Son Website

The official website for My Grandfather's Son has recently been updated and expanded to include a lot of resources and links. Here are some useful items that I found there:

1. An account of Justice Thomas's recent visit to Texas:
* * * On Oct. 23, 1,560 people gathered in a large ballroom at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in downtown Dallas to listen to a lunchtime chat by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who is on tour promoting his recently released memoir titled “My Grandfather’s Son.”

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank that believes in limited government, free enterprise, traditional values and a strong national defense, and the Federalist Society, a conservative legal network that believes in the principle of judicial restraint, sponsored the event, which according to the Heritage Foundation was the largest event it has staged outside of Washington, D.C., in its 34-year history.

Among the assembled were Texas Supreme Court Justices Nathan Hecht and Dale Wainwright, former White House Counsel and former U.S. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, and 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Priscilla Owen. * * * Then Thomas and former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont took the stage and seated themselves in high back chairs for what was designed to be an informal interview session— that is, with du Pont asking the questions (something Thomas is loathe to do from the bench) and Thomas answering the questions (something Thomas did quite comfortably and candidly). Thomas dealt with some preliminary questions about how cert petitions are granted. There was nothing conspiratorial about it, he said -- and convincing another justice to actually change his or her mind regarding a legal issue was “almost a Smithsonian moment.”
2. A link to Justice Thomas himself reading the introduction to My Grandfather's Son.

3. A link to an interview with Human Events:
I got to read your book in manuscript months ago, under a promise of secrecy. And it’s just been killing me because it was such a great book that I wanted to tell everybody all these stories about your grandfather.

Oh, he’s a great man.

Apparently he was an amazing person. . . . The first question I wanted to ask was, essentially, about the hardships that you went through. . . . It really comes through in the book that there’s a way in which the fact that your life was hard made it possible for you to accomplish things that you might not have been able to accomplish otherwise.

You know I have often said to my wife and to others, and certainly to young kids, that I was fortunate to have had misfortune in my life. One of the things it does for you is that it gives you -- it helps you build the kind of character traits you need to go on with your life. For example, you have a challenge that really seems almost impossible. But then you work through that challenge, and it sort of does something to you; it teaches you how to stick to things; it teaches you persistence; it teaches you patience. And if you don’t achieve what you want, or if something doesn’t happen and you have disappointment, you learn that you don’t always get what you want. That’s just a part of life. So I think misfortune -- when you survive it, and when you learn from it, and grow from it, actually turns out to be a benefit.

Now, part of what you lived through was segregation and poverty, terrible things . . . but part of what you lived through was that your grandfather was really tough on you. The stuff about how he really didn’t let you play with the bigger kids; he had you working hard all summer; he didn’t let you go out for sports. Today, somebody raising a kid like that, people would say, “He’s very controlling. Why is he so hard on those children?” Did he have to be that tough on you?

Well, you know, none of us would ever know that. How would we know? It was what it was. There were people who criticized him for being so hard on us, even in that time. And the thing that I dislike is when people say he was harsh. He was not harsh. But I want you to think a second about his life.

He never had a father. His mother died when he was nine. He went to live with his grandmother, who was a freed slave. She died when he was twelve or thirteen. He then goes to live with an uncle, who already has a house full of kids. He’s just another mouth to feed. As he always said, and I know I mentioned in the book, he was handed from pillar to post. And so he had a hard life. He had to make his way in the world and by the time he was a grown man, he could not write his name. And he eventually learned how to sign his name and learned how to read a little bit -- enough that he could barely function. And so think of the life that he had and how he had to make his way through the world. So it was a hard life and in turn he had to be a hard man.

But he was never harsh. And what is he leaving his grandsons? Or his boys, as he always called us. He sees a world that is very difficult on a lot of levels -- race, or just a part of human existence, he sees the need for education, the need to learn how to work, the need to have certain character traits that he learned from “Mother Wit,” as he always said, and so what’s the honest thing to do with two boys you care about -- you love -- when you know that the life ahead of them is going to be full of these challenges?

You teach them how to deal with it. And so I think in his own way, he was saying, “I am going to devote myself to teaching these boys.” And all these other things -- “this foolishness,” as he called it, playing sports, playing around, etcetera, has to go by the wayside.

Now I want you to contrast that -- if you look in the book, you’ll see that with my own son and his great-grandkids, he was a total pushover. He did whatever they wanted him to do. And how does he differentiate? He said that Jamal, my son, is “not my responsibility.” He said he’d already raised us. Jamal was my responsibility, not his. He could have fun with Jamal. But the way that he had to express his love for us was to discharge his obligation to raise us and prepare us for a life full of challenges. And so in his world, the way he was raised, what he saw ahead of him, yes, he had to do what he did.

And you know what? My brother and I -- and we’ve had, my brother and I had many conversations about this -- we were both grateful. And our bottom line was, how do you argue with success?

It is hard to argue with how it turned out. It seems like if the proof’s in the pudding, then . . .

Yeah, when my brother before he passed away, he just turned fifty, he was the president of a real estate management company.

I didn’t know that.

Oh, yes, my brother was, I mean he and I were very, very close. And eight years ago he passed away. He’d just turned 50 years old, and of course I was 51, and we were always, I mean you can see how close we were in age. And just to see your brother die. God. . . . He was there in New Orleans. There’s this cotton mart or something downtown, and he did the condos there. Then I think there was a Hilton Garden Hotel that they also did the -- he oversaw the development. That was one of his ideas; that was his brain child. That was my brother. . . . I don’t even know if it’s there after the flood, but he worked on all that. He was a genius when it came to that. And he also was a prodigious, prodigious worker. Where’d that come from?

So it really worked -- it rubbed off on you guys?

Oh, my goodness, that’s the whole point of the book. I titled my own book. I learned that lesson . . . I was toward the end of the manuscript when I came up with this title, My Grandfather’s Son, because I realized through it all something that my mother and relatives had been saying to me: “You’re just like your grandfather. You’re his son.” And that’s it.

* * *

So now that you have been a father, and you’re trying to give -- you know, people say, how much ever your mother loves you, she can’t really teach you to be a man -- you need a father to teach you to be a man, like your grandfather did for you. Does raising boys today give you some kind of perspective on what your grandfather did? Do you think it’s easier today, do you think it’s harder in current conditions? Do you think things have changed, or do you think it’s the same job, whenever?

Well, I think it’s probably, for everybody, raising kids has its challenges. But I think there was so much more back then that reinforced what he was trying to accomplish, and what our obligations were. You know, the nuns were very clear. They reinforced what happened at home. [Parents] didn’t have to come and fight with the teachers at school if they were doing something inconsistent with the way that they wanted us raised. The neighbors could tell us to go to the store and watch over us and discipline us and go and report on us, etcetera. So the society around us recognized, reinforced, and made sure that we complied with a certain way of living our lives.

It was kind of a united adult front?

Exactly. And I don’t think we have that kind of common culture or community today that we had before. And certainly -- maybe that’s a little too broad; we don’t have that kind of cohesion and coherence that we had before in outlook, where everybody’s on the same page almost. And some might be a little tougher than others, but they were generally all singing from the same sheet of music. So I can’t tell you whether it’s tougher.

My son, as I say in the preface, my son was always a better son than I deserved. He is a good guy. I mean, he was always compliant, and you know you had your challenges, but he did his homework, you could set your clock by him. He was independent. And today, he is such a good man.
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