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."