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."
* * *
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
From the Ventura County Star:
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.Attorney Tim Sandefur was there, and offers these observations:
"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.
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 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.From the Palm Beach Daily News, which covers audience questions as well:
"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."
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.From the Sun-Sentinel:
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."
AUDIENCE QUESTIONS TO JUSTICE THOMAS
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.
Finally, from the Associated Press:
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.
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
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."
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:
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.Ross Douthat adds:
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.
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
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.