Thursday, October 18, 2007

Justice Thomas in Atlanta

An account of Justice Thomas's speech in Atlanta:
Clarence Thomas promotes new book in Atlanta

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 10/19/07

Did Clarence Thomas need to have his head examined?

The Supreme Court justice, who's not exactly known for his openness, came back to his native Georgia on Thursday for an Atlanta Press Club luncheon. Meaning he'd be taking questions from an audience lousy with lawyers (Troutman Sanders was a sponsor) and, worse, pesky journalists.

Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Clarence Thomas speaking at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va. last month. Breaking his 16-year public silence on his bitter confirmation hearings, Thomas writes in his new book that Anita Hill was a mediocre employee who was used by political opponents to make claims she had been sexually harassed.

"I've been in worse situations," Thomas chuckled while autographing a copy of his somewhat controversial new memoir, "My Grandfather's Son," before lunch. "I have had confirmation hearings."

As if anyone needed reminding of that surreal period in 1991 when his televised hearings turned into a "he said/she said" debate on Anita Hill's accusations of sexual harassment, one of the first audience questions Thursday concerned Thomas' decision to revisit it in his book.

"If I'd left it out, you'd be asking the opposite," Thomas, 59, responded tersely.

Bonhomie suffused the Commerce Club, where the Pin Point-born justice got a standing ovation before proclaiming he was "pleased to be back home in Georgia."

Thomas alternately tickled his listeners by recalling his first trip to Atlanta 40 years ago — like everyone else, he came here to catch a plane and rode the glass elevator at the [Hyatt] Regency "about 10 times" — and quieted them by recalling his inability to get hired by law firms in Savannah and Atlanta.

"One of the hardest times for me was wanting so badly to come back to this state," Thomas said. "I think in a strange way that had I not been rejected in Atlanta, I certainly wouldn't be standing up here today talking to you all."

Not that this is the same Georgia he left behind. Asked if he thought there will be a female chief justice of the Supreme Court during his lifetime, Thomas pointed out the current chief, John Roberts, is only 52. Then he turned the Q&A tables:

"Did you ever think you'd live long enough to see a black female chief justice of the state of Georgia?" Thomas asked rhetorically, meaning current Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears. "It is absolutely historic. If that can happen in the sovereign state of Georgia, I think it can happen over the entire United States, and it can happen with respect to the presidency."

Thomas responded to a question about "misconceptions" about him by denouncing suggestions that he took his cues on decisions from conservative Justice Antonin Scalia: "Obviously what that's based on is that I'm black and supposed to think a certain way."

He laughed, hard, when asked which of his fellow justices he'd least like to argue a case before.

"I am not answering that," Thomas protested. "You've got to remember, I've got to go back to work!"

Don't be surprised if he gets there by motor coach. Thomas seemed happiest when talking about taking incognito king-of-the-road trips in his RV. Once, soon after the controversial court ruling that decided the 2000 presidential election, Thomas said, a trucker in Brunswick stared and asked, "Anyone ever tell you that you look like Clarence Thomas?" Responded the limelight-loathing justice: "Uh, yes."

"And he said, 'I'll bet it happens all the time, huh?' And that was it," Thomas recalled, roaring at the memory.

After all, he's been in worse situations.

No comments:

hits counter