Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Clarence Thomas’ life and book

Bill Kristol last paragraph in praise of Clarence Thomas’ My Grandfather’s Son: "Thomas’s memoir raises fundamental questions of love and responsibility, family and character. His book is a brief for the stern and vigorous virtues, but in a context of faith and love. It’s a delightful book--you really can’t put it down--but it’s also a source of moral education for young Americans. It could be almost as important a contribution to his beloved
country as Clarence Thomas’s work as a Supreme Court justice. And it suggests one more contribution he could make. Thomas in 2012!"

I have been reading it also. It is a delightful book, and is very difficult to put down. I find myself laughing and weeping in turn, but always hearing the good Justice in his own deep voice and cadence tell me the story. It’s like he’s in the room with me. The good man talking to his friends, fellow citizens, and you come to see how this American man is worthy of your entire trust. Everyone should read this book. Is it possible that it is as good as Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life or Twain Huck Finn? Read it. Buy it.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Clarence Thomas and the Treatment of Conservative Minority Judges

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is coming out with an autobiography entitled: "My Grandfather's Son", which is already opening up old wounds. For those not old enough to remember, Thomas was viciously attacked by liberals and Democrats during his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings. His experience is typical of black conservatives and continues to this day in America. It is instructive to revisit his case; that is why I feel his book will serve a useful purpose as we continue to struggle with issues of race in our country and examine the ugliness that is racial politics.

Thomas was born poor in Georgia, raised by his grandfather, but had the opportunity to go to college and escape his poverty. He later developed a conservative philosophy which, among other things, turned him against Affirmative Action. He entered into government service with the Reagan Administration and served in the Department of Education and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It was under George HW Bush that he was nominated to the Supreme Court, making him the 2nd African-American to be so nominated after Thurgood Marshall, who had retired.

There was a major problem confronting Thomas' nomination, however. Unlike Marshall, who was a famed Civil Rights lawyer and a liberal on the bench, Thomas was a black conservative-one who had written and spoken out against things like Affirmative Action. This was something that liberals and the traditional black leadership could never let stand. Thomas' nomination was vehemently opposed by the Democrats in Congress, trying as always to please their left-wing base. In addition, the National Organization of Women opposed Thomas due to his opposition to abortion.

Initially, there was very little for the Democrats to hang their hats on. They tried to argue that Thomas was unqualified, an ironic argument from the faction that supported Affirmative Action. They tried to paint him as a hypocrite, who had actually benefitted from Affirmative Action in his own academic and professional career, but now wanted to deny it to others. They tried unsuccessfully to pin him down on how he would rule on abortion. Thomas appeared to be heading toward confirmation.

It was at this point that someone brought out Anita Hill, an African-American law school professor at the University of Oklahoma, who had previously worked under Thomas at the Department of Education and later, at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Hill was charging that while under Thomas' supervision at DOE, he subjected her to a continuing ordeal of improper sexual innuendos-in other words, sexual harassment. Now the opposition to Thomas was in full swing. As an entire nation watched her testimony on TV, Hill, an impressive witness, recounted that Thomas had used improper language in her presence, referring to porn movies with a well-endowed male star named " Long Dong Silver", references to finding a pubic hair on his coke can, etc. Thomas, in an impassioned rebuttal, denied Hill's charges in front of Congress, then angrily charged the Democrats on the panel with a "High Tech Lynching". In one angry exchange, Thomas defied the effort of left-wing Senator, Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH) to challenge his (Thomas) character.

It was brought out in the hearings that, in spite of the alleged behavior, Hill had followed Thomas on to a subsequent job at the EEOC. Further, there was scant corroboration for Hill's testimony. She had apparently complained to a couple of friends that she was having trouble with a supervisor at work, but no one else could offer concrete testimony as to Thomas' alleged behavior to Hill. In the end, it came down to a matter of "he said, she said". The Republicans still backed Thomas.

Sad as this episode was, there were a couple of moments of comedy. At one point near the end of the hearings, a befuddled Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC) remarked, "I still don't know what Long John Silver has to do with all this". And then there was Sen Ted Kennedy (D-MA), the hero of Chappaquidick and famed defender of female virtue. During the hearings, he was as quiet as a doormouse, slouched in his chair almost out of view. After all, what could he say?

Yet, when he stood to give his final remarks in front of the podium, Kennedy reverted to his tub-thumping, hypocritical ways-perhaps egged on by his constituents who demanded that he take a stand. Reading from a stack of papers and turning a new page after every two or three sentences (they must have been written in 100 point font), Kennedy condemned Thomas, announced that he believed Anita Hill and that he would vote no on confirmation.

In the end, Thomas carried enough votes to win confirmation, but the attack on his character had left him and his wife, Virginia, bitterly wounded. Thomas still sits on the Supreme Court today, and he has been a consistently conservative justice along with Antonin Scalia. Yet, from time to time, he is still subject to personal attacks from the left and from the "traditional black leadership". In spite of the attacks, he has not retreated from the philosophy he believes in. Those who know him describe him as a decent, congenial and gracious man. Laura Ingraham , a conservative talk show host who clerked under Justice Thomas, describes him as one of her closest friends. In his free time, Thomas often speaks before groups of troubled youth and gives them advice on how to turn around their lives.

In the wake of the book, both Thomas and Hill stand by their testimony in 1991. We may never know what actually transpired between the two of them. There is an interesting contrast, however, between the Hill-Thomas issue and that of Bill Clinton and Paula Jones. Regardless of what one thinks of Jones and the merits of her claim against Clinton, she did in fact, have more corroboration for her charges than Hill. In the Jones matter, she had the testimony of the Arkansas State Trooper, who, under orders from Clinton, approached Jones and escorted her to a hotel room to meet Clinton. Of course, what happened in that room is still open to doubt, but Anita Hill, in her charges against Thomas, lacked anything close to that kind of corroboration. Yet, the Democrats treated Hill as a noble heroine who spoke the truth. A few years later, many of the same Democrats dismissed Paula Jones as "trailer park trash".

Perhaps more importantly, Thomas' experience has been repeated against other black conservatives, and Latino conservatives as well. Just within the realm of judicial nominees, look at what was done to Miguel Estrada, nominated to the Supreme Court by George W Bush. He was attacked as not being sufficiently Hispanic because he immigrated from Honduras and rose up quickly in terms of his socio-economic condition. No, the Hispanic groups like La Raza were looking for someone who came up on the mean streets of the barrio-and more importantly- shared their world-view (liberal). Estrada was subjected to all kinds of attacks, his nomination was delayed and delayed until he just gave up and quit the process. All the while, his ailing wife, who was visably upset at the treatment her husband was getting, was being pushed over the emotional edge (She eventually committed suicide).

Then there was Janice Rogers Brown, a black conservative nominated by George W Bush to the District Appeals Court in Washington-after the Supreme Court, considered the most important court in the land. Her nomination was similarly held up because she was conservative. Only after considerable wheeling and dealing between the parties was she allowed to be confirmed. It should be noted that these nominations were during the time Republicans were in the majority. Both of these nominees had the votes. The Democrats, however, used procedure to deny them a straight up or down vote that would have quickly confirmed them.

Why have these good and decent people been subjected to these outrages? Because, judicial appointments are important in forming our society. The philosophy of our judges affects virtually all segments of our daily life in relationship to our law. As for the Supreme Court, these are life-time appointments (as are all Federal judges). In other words, a Supreme Court judge usually far outlives the president who put him/her on the bench. Both parties know this. All political interest groups know this. This is why the stakes are so high. The Democrats, much more than the Republicans, have resorted to a slash and burn approach to deny a conservative president the chance to get a conservative on the bench. In the case of minority judges, the Democrats, the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, and other race-based groups know that the last thing they want to see is a conservative minority rise to the top and serve as a role model-an alternative if you will for minority youth.

That they would resort to character assassination is beyond contempt. It shows much more about their own character(s) than those that they target.

gary fouse

Yes, Gary, I remember. We, my home schooled kids and I, listened to the coverage on NPR, which was really something to hear. The hearings themselves were interesting but the commentary had me "talking back" to the commentators in a way that most impressed my children. I have wondered if our era of "reality TV" isn't a result of the kind of entertainment Congressional hearings offer.

Peter, will this book be a Book of the Week?

Yes, of course, it will be a Book of the Week!

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