Clarence Thomas: My Grandfather’s Son Favorite Quotes

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I picked up My Grandfather’s Son by Clarence Thomas at the local library the other day. It was a quick read, and a spiritual experience to spend two days revisiting the life of a great man.
From the chapter titled Approaching the Bench
“The fourteen members of the judiciary committee seated together in a long row at the front of the room, loomed larger than life, dwarfing the small table and single chair that had been set up for me. Jamal, my mother, and my sister were seated near the front of the room. Virginia joined them, and Senator Danforth and my other advisers took seats immediately behind me. My old friend Harry Singleton stood next to a pillar, looking like a sentry. (He would stand there throughout the hearings, as though he was guarding my back.) I greeted the senators and went to my chair, drawing momentary comfort from the sight of my wife, family, and friends. Then I turned my back on them and sat down to face the unknown.
The morning was taken up by the committee members’ lengthy opening statements, more than a few of which were so blatantly hostile as to border on the comical. I endured them as I had endured the slights and slurs I had heard all my life, but I found it offensive that this particular group of people was talking about my in such terms. What gave these rich white men the right to question my commitment to racial justice? Was there no limit to their shamelessness? Not until three in the afternoon was I allowed to speak.
Vernon Jordon had suggested that I express my appreciation of the civil rights pioneers who had done so much to change America for the better, but I needed no prodding from him to do so, just as nobody had to remind me to tell the senators where I came from and what I believed: “A judge must get the decision right because when all is said and done, the little guy, the average person, the people of Pinpoint, the real people of America will be affected not only by what we as judges do, but by the way we do our jobs.”
Senator Biden was the first questioner. Instead of the softball questions he’d promised to ask, he threw a beanball straight at my head, quoting from a speech that I’d given four years earlier at the Pacific Legal Foundation and challenging me to defend what I’d said: “I find attractive the arguments of scholars such as Stephen Macedo, who defend an activist Supreme Court that would…strike down laws restricting property rights.” That caught me off guard, and I had no recollection of making so atypical a statement, which shook me up even more. “Now it would seem to me what you were talking about,” Senator Biden went on to say, “is you find attractive the fact that they are activists and they would like to strike down existing laws that impact on restricting the use of property rights, because you know, that is what they write about.”
Since I didn’t remember making the statement in the first place, I didn’t know how to respond to it. All I could say in reply was that “It has been quite some time since I have Professor Macedo…But I don’t believe that in my writings I have indicated that we should have an activist Supreme Court.” It was, I knew, a weak answer.
Fortunately, though, the young lawyers who had helped prepare me for the hearings had loaded all of my speeches into a computer, and at the first break in the proceedings they looked this one up. The senator, they found, had wrenched my words out of context. I looked at the text of my speech and saw that the passage he’d read out loud had been immediately followed by two other sentences: “But the libertarian argument overlooks the place of the Supreme Court in a scheme of separation of powers. One does not strengthen self government and the rule of law by having the non-democratic branch of the government make policy.” The point I’d been making was the opposite of the one that Senator Biden claimed I had made.
Throughout my life I’ve often found truth embedded in the lyrics of my favorite records. At Yale, for example, I’d listened often to “smiling faces sometimes,” a song by the Undisputed Truth that warns of the dangers of trusting the hypocrites who “pretend to be your friend” while secretly planning to do you wrong. Now I knew I’d met one of them: Senator Biden’s smooth, insincere promises that he would treat me fairly were nothing but talk. Instead of relaxing I’d have to keep my guard up.
Democratic senators spent the next few days pummeling me with loaded questions. Many were halfhearted retreads from my last confirmation hearing, but no sooner was the subject of abortion broached than the room heated up considerably. Patrick Leahy quizzed me aggressively about whether I’d discussed Roe with anyone. “Have you ever had discussion of Roe V. Wade other than in this room?” he asked sarcastically. “In the seventeen or eighteen years it’s been there?”
I explained that while I might have mentioned it in passing, it wasn’t a case about which I’d thought deeply or whose merits I’d had occasion to consider. It was obvious that the senator didn’t believe me. Apparently few people in Washington thought it was possible to live and breathe without debating Roe and forming a considered opinion on it. But that was what I’d done, so I didn’t give in to Senator Leahy’s bullying. All I could do was keep on telling the truth, just as I had told it to my questioners at the murder boards.
Each day I left the Caucus Room tired, tormented, and anxious, and each day Virginia and I bathed ourselves in God’s unwavering love. I knew that my team was doing all they could for me, but the long months of preparation had worn me down to a shadow of myself, and I knew that no human hand could sustain me in my time of trial. After years of rejecting God, I’d slowly eased into a state of quiet ambivalence toward Him, but that wasn’t good enough anymore: I had to go the whole way. I recalled one of Daddy’s sayings, “Hard times make monkey eat cayenne pepper,” Now, with Virginia at my side, I ate the pepper of faith—and found it sweet.
Psalm 57 showed me the way:
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
Until the disaster has passed…
I am in the midst of lions;
I lie among ravenous beasts—
Men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
Whose tongues are sharp swords,
They spread a net for my feet—
I was bowed down in distress.
They dug a pit in my path—
But they have fallen into it themselves.

Between sessions Mike Luttig and I went over various subjects that were proving problematic. My opponents were armed with longs lists of trick questions prepared by law professors and activists. I, on the other hand, had spent most of the preceding decade running a federal agency instead of studying two centuries worth of Supreme Court decisions, and Roe V. Wade wasn’t the only area of constitutional law about which I’d yet to think deeply.
Trying to review so many cases in the space of three months was like trying to cram for a final exam while being shoved around by an angry mob. It wasn’t that I doubted my ability to master the material. I already understood the key cases and the legal concepts behind them perfectly well.
But it’s one thing to know a precedent and another one to think it through methodically, then apply it to specific cases. Until he’s gone through that deliberative process on a case-by-case basis, an open minded judge can’t predict how he will rule in any given situation. As for the matter of my judicial philosophy, I didn’t have one—and didn’t want one. A philosophy that is imposed from without instead of arising organically from day-to-day engagement with the law isn’t worth having. Such a philosophy runs the risk of becoming an ideology, and I’d spent much of my adult life shying away from abstract ideological theories that served only to obscure the reality of life as It’s lived.
On the other hand, I now saw that there was no reason for me to worry about my ability to discuss such broad-brush questions with the easy fluency of a Robert Bork. Most of my opponents on the Judiciary Committee cared about only one thing: how would I rule on abortion rights?
I knew it was irresponsible for them to expect me to prejudge a complex area of law without having decided a single case on the subject, but I also knew that it had never occurred to any of them that my personal view about the morality of abortion would have nothing to do with my view of Roe v. Wade. I wasn’t that kind of judge—or that kind of person.
I had sworn to administer justice “faithfully and impartially.” To do otherwise would be to violate my oath. That meant I had no business imposing my personal views on the country. Nor did I have the slightest intention of doing so. From the start of my tenure on the court of appeals, I’d taken Larry Silberman’s advice to heart: in every case that came before me, I considered what my role was as a judge. But my enemies weren’t looking for open minded justices. All they cared about was keeping anyone off the Supreme Court who might possibley vote to reverse Roe or water it down. As far as they were concerned, my open mindedness was a disadvantage, not a qualificiation.” P. 234 – 239
Here is the Sixty Minutes Interview with Clarence Thomas (Part one)

Here is the web site that was published to round up the various reviews of the book. My favorite features were the various video stories that were published, especially Armstrong Williams party which was covered by C-Span.
Jenny Hatch
Ellis Washington also wrote about Clarence Thomas in his weekly column. Go Here to read it!


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So much has been said about this remarkable biography, that is feels a little presumptious to share my take on it.
But share I will, because the quotes from the book that touched my heart the most were largely overlooked by most of the reviewers whom I have read. I want to quote these passages (any typos are mine) and share the impact the story had on my life this past week.
Every person who has a desire to understand Black Politics of the past forty years should read this book. I am always the most inspired by any story of somone standing up to seemingly impossible odds and winning by mustering Faith in Jesus Christ. I was thrilled to read this story of yet another disciple of Christ standing in truth, battling the spiritual demons in our American Society and overcoming fear. It is a tremendous witness of Faith in Jesus Christ and I share with you now the passages that had the most impact on me as I read.

Sixty Minutes interview Part 2
From the chapter titled The Golden Handcuffs
“I’d learned the hard way that a law degree from Yale meant one thing for white graduates and another for blacks, no matter how much anyone denied it; I couldn’t do anything about that now, but I had a feeling that winning real cases in court would be a better demonstration of what I could do than a law school transcript.
As a symbol of my disillusionment, I peeled a fifteen cent price sticker off a package of cigars and stuck it on the frame of my law degree to remind myself of the mistake I’d made by going to Yale. I never did change my mind about its value. Instead of hanging it on the wall of my Supreme Court office, I stored it in the basement of my Virginia home—with the sticker still on the frame.” P. 99-100
From the chapter titled The Golden Handcuffs
“I turned to the article, which was by Michael Novak, a man whose name I didn’t know. He was writing about a book by Thomas Sowell called Race and Economics. His very first words took my breath away; “Honest on questions of race is rare in the United States. So many and unrecognized have been the injustices committed against blacks that no one wishes to be unkind, or subject himself to intimidating charges. Hence even the simple truths are commonly evaded.” It was as though he were talking directly to me. At the end he quoted from the last paragraph of Sowell’s book’

“Perhaps the greatest dilemma in the attempts to raise ethnic minority income is that those methods which have historically proved successful – self reliance, work skills, education, business experience—are all slow developing, while those methods which are more direct and immediate—job quotas, charity, subsidies, preferential treatment—tend to undermine self reliance and pride of achievement in the long run. If the history of American ethnic groups shows anything, it is how large a role has been played by attitudes of self reliance

I felt like a thirsty man gulping down a glass of cool water. Here was a black man who was saying what I thought—and not behind closed doors either, but in the pages of a book that had just been reviewed in a national newspaper.
Never before had I seen my views stated with such crisp, unapologetic clarity; the problems faced by blacks in America would take quite some time to solve, and the responsibility for solving them would fall largely on black people themselves.
It was far more common in the seventies to argue that whites, having caused our problems, should be responsible for solving them instantly, but while that approach was good for building political coalitions and soothing guilty white consciences, it hadn’t done much to improve the daily lives of blacks. Sowell’s perspective, by contrast seemed old fashioned, outdated, even mundane—but realistic.
It reminded me of the mantra of the Black Muslims I had met at college: Do for self, brother. Now, I began to see more clearly why they had impressed me. Though their religion was starkly different from the Catholicism of my youth, their unswerving belief in self-reliance wasn’t so far removed from Daddy’s way, and you didn’t have to go along with their racial separatism—I didn’t, then or later—to know that blacks could never hope to improve their lives until they took responsibility for them.” P 105 – 107
From the chapter titled A Question of Will
“A young black reporter from the Washington Post, Juan Williams, was seated next to me, and we struck up a conversation. I had no idea that what I said might find its way into the Post—I wasn’t used to talking to reporters—and I spoke to Williams in a straightforward, unguarded way, explaining that I was opposed to welfare because I had seen its destructive effects up close in Savannah.
Most of the older people among whome I had grown up, I told him, felt as I did, sharing Daddy’s belief that it would be the “ruination” of blacks, undermining their desire to work and provide for themselves. I added that my own sister was a victim of the system, which had created a sense of entitlement that had trapped her and her children. I went on to say that I opposed busing, preferring to give school vouchers to poor children trapped in dysfunctional schools. We shook hands and parted and I thought no more about it.
All I’d done was speak my mind. What could be wrong with that?
I flew back to Washington full of excitement. Then I read the newspaper coverage of the conference, most of which appeared to dismiss our motives as self-serving. One reporter referred to me in passing as “black conservative.” I’d never been mentioned in a newspaper, nor had anyone ever called me a conservative.
“I’ve been called a lot of things in my life,” I later told Professor Sowell, “but never that.” He laughed. “At least it’s better than being called a transvestite,” he replied dryly. A bigger surprise was on the way: Janet Brown, Senator Danforth’s press secretary, called to tell me that a Washington Post photographer was coming by the office to take my picture for a column by Juan Williams that would run in the paper the next day. I almost fainted. I had no idea what the column would say, but I expected the worst.
After a sleepless night, I got up first thing in the morning to buy a copy of the Post. I can still remember the date: December 16, 1980. I turned to the opinion section, saw my smiling face, and knew that my life would never be the same. It wasn’t that Juan Williams had misquoted or misrepresented me. He presented my opinions accurately and fairly.
But I’d gone against the liberal consensus on race, something that blacks weren’t supposed to do—and in the Post, no less! For the next few days, strangers on the street glared disapprovingly at me as I walked by. Senator Danforth had no problem with the piece—he’d heard me say such things many times before—but I took plenty of heat from some of my fellow black staffers on the Hill, who made it clear that there could be no real debate on these matters. I could only choose between being an outcast and being dishonest. I also received a piece of anonymous hate mail claiming that I wore a “watermelon-eating grin” in the picture the Post ran alongside the story.
That was bad enough, but what really hurt was the criticism I received for having mentioned my sister and her children. I didn’t blame Juan Williams—it was my fault for not knowing the rules of Washington Journalism—but I wouldn’t have said anything of the kind had I known he was going to print it. The only reason I’d brought the subject up in the first place was to make clear to him that I knew what I was talking about. What I found inexplicable was that so many of the people who went out of their way to tell me how strongly they disapproved of my views seemed to think that the mere act of pointing out the human damage caused by welfare politicies was wrong in and of itself. Would they have felt the same way if I’d said that I was opposed to drunk driving because my sister and her children had been hit by a drunk driver? I doubted it.”
P. 132 – 133
From the chapter titled Approaching the Bench
“…The trouble was that I didn’t know what else to do. I’d gotten plenty of offers since going to EEOC, but none had excited me. In 1986, as my first term was winding up, I was sounded out by several headhunters, one of whom wanted to know whether I’d consider becoming president of one of baseballs major leagues. “Would I have to go to the games?” I asked. He said it was part of the deal, to which I replied that no amount of money could possibly make me sit through that many baseball games.” P. 194
From the chapter titled Approaching the Bench
“I thoroughly enjoyed my visit with Pat Moynihan, for example, whose work on the black family I had long appreciated and defended—but then, Senator Moynihan was a bona fide intellectual who took ideas seriously, unlike some of his colleagues who saw them as nothing more than blunt instruments to be used on their enemies.
Howard Metzenbaum was the other kind of senator, and I already knew how he felt about me. It would have been charitable to call him unlikable, though he went through the motions of civility during my visit.
At one point he actually tried to lure me into a discussion of natural law, but I knew that he was no philosopher, just another cynical politician looking for a chink in my armor, so all I did was ask him if he would consider having a human-being sandwich for lunch instead of, say, a turkey sandwich. That’s Natural Law 101: all law is based on some sense of moral principles inherent in the nature of human beings, which explains why cannibalism, even without a written law to proscribe it, strikes every civilized person as naturally wrong. Any well read college student would have gotten my point, but Senator Metzenbaum just stared at me awkwardly and changed the subject as fast as he could.” P 221 – 222
From the chapter titled Approaching the Bench
“I learned another lesson from studying Judge Bork’s confirmation hearings that the smear campaign mounted by his opponents was intended to make him look so bad in the public eye that southern senators could vote against him without running the risk of antagonizing their conservative supporters. My opponents hoped to do the same thing by charging that I was unqualified to sit on the Court—and by making discreet, strategically placed mentions of the fact that my wife was white. It was a subtle way of tapping into old racial prejudices, and I suspected that it might work.
I learned other lessons from the Bork Debacle. One of them was that there was nothing to be gained from engaging in extended debates with the members of the Judiciary Committee. A confirmation hearing, Mike counseled me, is an ordeal to be endured, not an opportunity to engage in thoughtful public discussion. Judge Bork had made the mistake of patiently trying to explain the nuances of constitutional law to his questioners, despite the fact that most of them didn’t know or care what he was talking about. The paradox was that my comparative inexperience might make it easier for me to stay out of that swamp. I wasn’t a theorist of constitutional law, meaning that I couldn’t have emulated Judge Bork even if I’d wanted to do so. Instead I planned to say as little as possible about such matters. To do more would be to run the risk of giving my enemies more ammunition to fire at me—which was, of course, the whole point of their questioning.
All these things were running through my mind on the morning of Septermber 10,1991. Senator Danforth would be escorting me to the Caucus Room, and Virginia and I went to his office early. He and his wife Sally, were already there. True to his word, the senator had stood by me all summer long, talking to his fellow senators and campaigning vigorously for my nomination.
Now he asked Virginia and me to follow him into the small private bathroom in his office. “You’ll probably think I’m strange to ask you to do this” he said kiddingly, but by then I wasn’t able to see the humor in much of anything.
As soon as the four of us had crowded into the bathroom, he pulled out a portable tape recorder and played us a recording of “Onward Christian Soldiers” by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The look on his face told me that this was no joke. Virginia and I listened intently to the hymn’s long familiar words:
Onward Christian Soldiers,
marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His Banners Go!

Then Senator Danforth prayed that the day would go well, told me to go forth in the name of Christ, and implored me to let the Holy Ghost speak through me. I knew he was an Episcopal minister—it was no secret—but this was the first time I’d seen him in that capacity, and I felt blessed. In the dark days to come, he would be everything I needed: friend, counselor, senator, lobbyist, and priest.” P. 232- 234
From the chapter titled Approaching the Bench
“The fourteen members of the judiciary committee seated together in a long row at the front of the room, loomed larger than life, dwarfing the small table and single chair that had been set up for me. Jamal, my mother, and my sister were seated near the front of the room. Virginia joined them, and Senator Danforth and my other advisers took seats immediately behind me. My old friend Harry Singleton stood next to a pillar, looking like a sentry. (He would stand there throughout the hearings, as though he was guarding my back.) I greeted the senators and went to my chair, drawing momentary comfort from the sight of my wife, family, and friends. Then I turned my back on them and sat down to face the unknown.
The morning was taken up by the committee members’ lengthy opening statements, more than a few of which were so blatantly hostile as to border on the comical. I endured them as I had endured the slights and slurs I had heard all my life, but I found it offensive that this particular group of people was talking about my in such terms. What gave these rich white men the right to question my commitment to racial justice? Was there no limit to their shamelessness? Not until three in the afternoon was I allowed to speak.
Vernon Jordon had suggested that I express my appreciation of the civil rights pioneers who had done so much to change America for the better, but I needed no prodding from him to do so, just as nobody had to remind me to tell the senators where I came from and what I believed: “A judge must get the decision right because when all is said and done, the little guy, the average person, the people of Pinpoint, the real people of America will be affected not only by what we as judges do, but by the way we do our jobs.”
Senator Biden was the first questioner. Instead of the softball questions he’d promised to ask, he threw a beanball straight at my head, quoting from a speech that I’d given four years earlier at the Pacific Legal Foundation and challenging me to defend what I’d said: “I find attractive the arguments of scholars such as Stephen Macedo, who defend an activist Supreme Court that would…strike down laws restricting property rights.” That caught me off guard, and I had no recollection of making so atypical a statement, which shook me up even more. “Now it would seem to me what you were talking about,” Senator Biden went on to say, “is you find attractive the fact that they are activists and they would like to strike down existing laws that impact on restricting the use of property rights, because you know, that is what they write about.”
Since I didn’t remember making the statement in the first place, I didn’t know how to respond to it. All I could say in reply was that “It has been quite some time since I have Professor Macedo…But I don’t believe that in my writings I have indicated that we should have an activist Supreme Court.” It was, I knew, a weak answer.
Fortunately, though, the young lawyers who had helped prepare me for the hearings had loaded all of my speeches into a computer, and at the first break in the proceedings they looked this one up. The senator, they found, had wrenched my words out of context. I looked at the text of my speech and saw that the passage he’d read out loud had been immediately followed by two other sentences: “But the libertarian argument overlooks the place of the Supreme Court in a scheme of separation of powers. One does not strengthen self government and the rule of law by having the non-democratic branch of the government make policy.” The point I’d been making was the opposite of the one that Senator Biden claimed I had made.
Throughout my life I’ve often found truth embedded in the lyrics of my favorite records. At Yale, for example, I’d listened often to “smiling faces sometimes,” a song by the Undisputed Truth that warns of the dangers of trusting the hypocrites who “pretend to be your friend” while secretly planning to do you wrong. Now I knew I’d met one of them: Senator Biden’s smooth, insincere promises that he would treat me fairly were nothing but talk. Instead of relaxing I’d have to keep my guard up.
Democratic senators spent the next few days pummeling me with loaded questions. Many were halfhearted retreads from my last confirmation hearing, but no sooner was the subject of abortion broached than the room heated up considerably. Patrick Leahy quizzed me aggressively about whether I’d discussed Roe with anyone. “Have you ever had discussion of Roe V. Wade other than in this room?” he asked sarcastically. “In the seventeen or eighteen years it’s been there?”
I explained that while I might have mentioned it in passing, it wasn’t a case about which I’d thought deeply or whose merits I’d had occasion to consider. It was obvious that the senator didn’t believe me. Apparently few people in Washington thought it was possible to live and breathe without debating Roe and forming a considered opinion on it. But that was what I’d done, so I didn’t give in to Senator Leahy’s bullying. All I could do was keep on telling the truth, just as I had told it to my questioners at the murder boards.
Each day I left the Caucus Room tired, tormented, and anxious, and each day Virginia and I bathed ourselves in God’s unwavering love. I knew that my team was doing all they could for me, but the long months of preparation had worn me down to a shadow of myself, and I knew that no human hand could sustain me in my time of trial. After years of rejecting God, I’d slowly eased into a state of quiet ambivalence toward Him, but that wasn’t good enough anymore: I had to go the whole way. I recalled one of Daddy’s sayings, “Hard times make monkey eat cayenne pepper,” Now, with Virginia at my side, I ate the pepper of faith—and found it sweet.
Psalm 57 showed me the way:
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
Until the disaster has passed…
I am in the midst of lions;
I lie among ravenous beasts—
Men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
Whose tongues are sharp swords,
They spread a net for my feet—
I was bowed down in distress.
They dug a pit in my path—
But they have fallen into it themselves.

Between sessions Mike Luttig and I went over various subjects that were proving problematic. My opponents were armed with longs lists of trick questions prepared by law professors and activists. I, on the other hand, had spent most of the preceding decade running a federal agency instead of studying two centuries worth of Supreme Court decisions, and Roe V. Wade wasn’t the only area of constitutional law about which I’d yet to think deeply.
Trying to review so many cases in the space of three months was like trying to cram for a final exam while being shoved around by an angry mob. It wasn’t that I doubted my ability to master the material. I already understood the key cases and the legal concepts behind them perfectly well.
But it’s one thing to know a precedent and another one to think it through methodically, then apply it to specific cases. Until he’s gone through that deliberative process on a case-by-case basis, an open minded judge can’t predict how he will rule in any given situation. As for the matter of my judicial philosophy, I didn’t have one—and didn’t want one. A philosophy that is imposed from without instead of arising organically from day-to-day engagement with the law isn’t worth having. Such a philosophy runs the risk of becoming an ideology, and I’d spent much of my adult life shying away from abstract ideological theories that served only to obscure the reality of life as It’s lived.
On the other hand, I now saw that there was no reason for me to worry about my ability to discuss such broad-brush questions with the easy fluency of a Robert Bork. Most of my opponents on the Judiciary Committee cared about only one thing: how would I rule on abortion rights?
I knew it was irresponsible for them to expect me to prejudge a complex area of law without having decided a single case on the subject, but I also knew that it had never occurred to any of them that my personal view about the morality of abortion would have nothing to do with my view of Roe v. Wade. I wasn’t that kind of judge—or that kind of person.
I had sworn to administer justice “faithfully and impartially.” To do otherwise would be to violate my oath. That meant I had no business imposing my personal views on the country. Nor did I have the slightest intention of doing so. From the start of my tenure on the court of appeals, I’d taken Larry Silberman’s advice to heart: in every case that came before me, I considered what my role was as a judge. But my enemies weren’t looking for open minded justices. All they cared about was keeping anyone off the Supreme Court who might possibley vote to reverse Roe or water it down. As far as they were concerned, my open mindedness was a disadvantage, not a qualificiation.” P. 234 – 239
From the chapter titled Approaching the Bench
“As bad as I felt, though, my mother felt even worse. Between the day President Bush announced his intention of nominating me to the end of my testimony, she lost more than thirty pounds as a result of stress and worry. A lifelong Democrat who had always admired the Kennedys, she grew increasingly furious with the Democratic senators who were trying to sabotage my nomination, thought the unceasing attacks on me had already taken their toll on her by the time the hearings started.
I’d told her to be careful about talking to reporters, but that hadn’t stopped her from granting countless interviews, since she was sure that it couldn’t hurt to tell our story. Within a few weeks, she knew better. One reporter actually had the nerve to argue with her about how many children she had, insisting that there were only two of us.
Leola and I had never before discussed political matters. Daddy had once asked me why I’d become a Republican, to which I replied that the Democrats no longer represented the things he’d taught me.
But I never asked my mother how she voted, nor did she ask me why I’d chosen to ally myself with a party that so many blacks regarded as racist and evil. Now she could see for herself. Patrick Leahy, Howard Metzenbaum, Joe Biden, Paul Simon, even Teddy Kennedy: all of them were arrayed against me.
How dare they treat her son that way. Never before had I seen her as angry as she was in the fall of 1991. All her life she’d assumed that Democrats in Washington were sensible leaders—but now she saw these men as single issue zealots who were unwilling to treat her son fairly. “I ain’t never votin’ fo’ another Democrat long as I can draw breath,” she told me as we walked out of the Senate building on what should have been my final day of testimony. “I’d vote for a dog first.” P. 239 – 240
From the chapter titled Invitation to a Lynching
“Virginia and I went home to Alexandria to find our answering machine full of reassuring messages. We spent the evening praying, reading the Bible together, and listening to religious music. Before going to bed, we asked four of our friends Elizabeth and Steven Law and Kay and Charles James, to come over the next morning and join us in prayer.
They showed up bright and early, carrying bags of doughnuts and bagels past the reporters camped outside the house. The six of us chatted for a little while, then sat in a circle, held hands, and asked for the Lord for help. Both couples came back each day until the battle was over, and their company was a priceless gift. “Where tow or three are gathered in my name, “ Jesus said, “I am there among them.” He was among us now.
It has long since become clear to me that this battle was at bottom spiritual, not political, and so my attention shifted from politics to the inward reality of my spiritual life. I had been proud of my work at EEOC and the Department of Education, and no less proud that I’d spent nearly a decade in the public eye without being touched by personal scandal.
Might I have been too proud? It occurred to me for the first time that I had cherished my good name in the same way that a wealthy man cherishes his money. I remembered how Jesus had told the rich man to give away his fortune and “come and follow me.” Perhaps I would have to renounce my pride to endure this trial, even as Cardinal Merry del Val had prayed for deliverance in his Litany of Humility:
Deliver me, O Jesus,
from the fear of being humiliated…
from the fear of being despised…
from the fear of suffering rebukes…
from the fear of being calumniated.

In addition to suspecting that I had committed the sin of pride, I saw that I was resisting what God had put before me. “Father, let this cup pass from me,” Jesus had prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. “But thy will, not mine be done.” The second half of His prayer is the harder part. Until then I’d been concentrating on wanting the confirmation debate to come to an end, drawing back from total submission to God’s will.
Now I had no choice but to submit completely. I could do nothing to push the cup away. The time had come to attend to His will, not mine. I could not know whether doing so would make the experience less difficult, but I had faith that His transcendent purpose would sustain me to the end of it—and beyond. He had never failed me. Even in my darkest hours, even when I openly rejected Him. His forgiving and sustaining Grace had always been there.
I knew that it would give me the glimmer of hope I needed now more than ever. It was in the consoling words of the prophet Isaiah that I found my own watchword:
“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings as eagles:
they shall run, and not be weary;
and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Senator Danforth drove out to the house later that morning to talk with Virginia and me. “I don’t know how this is going to turn out Clarence,” he said. “But don’t forget, you never wanted to be on the Court.” I agreed. I was ready to do my best—I owed it to the president, to my supporters, and to everyone else who had been similarly mistreated in the past, starting with Judge Bork—but the court itself I could take or leave. It was in God’s hands now.
The senator drove us into Washington and dropped us off at the White House. A press car followed us all the way there. Virginia and I went to the Oval Office and met with President Bush, after which she and Mrs. Bush went off by themselves while the president and I went for a walk on the South Lawn. He said he was sorry for having gotten me into so dirty a fight. I said that I didn’t blame him in the slightest. He made it clear that he wouldn’t abandon me, and I knew he meant it. “I’ll do my best to stick it out,” I said. “I promised I would,” Later I learned that President Bush’s team had begun to fracture. Marlin Fitzwater was among the White House staffers who talked of pulling the plug on my nomination, but Boyden Gray—as well as the president himself—refused to panic.
From there I went to the courthouse, where I took calls from several of my colleagues, all of whom expressed their outrage at the way I was being treated. Judge Aubrey Robinson was particularly angry with my persecutors. “I would just tell them all to go to hell.” He said. Larry Silberman gave me a more practical piece of advice, get a lawyer. Until that moment, it hadn’t crossed my mind that I might need one.
None of my advisers I realized, was a trial lawyer. Larry gave me some names, but as much as I trusted his judgment, I also knew that what I really needed was a good friend who knew his way around a courtroom, so I called Larry Thompson that evening. Larry had done well for himself since we’d worked together at Monsanto, serving as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia during the Reagan Administration, then becoming a partner at King and Spalding, a prestigious Atlana Law firm with a thriving White Collar criminal practice. Since the judiciary Committee was treating me like a common criminal, he was just the lawyer I needed.
“Larry, I need your help,” I said.
“I’ll be there on Monday.”
“It’ll be all over by then.”
“Then I’ll be there in the morning.” And that was that.

The hearings would be reopened on Friday. That gave Larry a day to think things through. He didn’t need to do much thinking, though, for Anita’s public statements, as Lee Liberman had hinted when she’d first called me from the White House, were full of holes. She’d claimed at her press conference to have been too afraid of me to complain about my alleged misconduct—yet she’d lobbied aggressively to follow me from the Department of Education to EEOC. She said she’d never called me—but the telephone logs of my secretaries at EEOC and the court of appeals proved that she’d done so repeatedly.
She claimed that other members of my staff could corroborate her story—but they denied it. In the end only three EEOC employees would support he version of what supposedly happened between us—but all of them had either been fired or worked there at the same time as Anita. Having spent years at EEOC reviewing such claims, I was sure that this one would have been thrown out of court in an instant. But did any of these things matter? Not in the least. The mob was howling, and it wouldn’t be satisfied until it had tasted my blood.
The more I reflected on what was happening, the more it astonished me. As a child in the deep south, I’d grown up fearing the lynch mobs of the Ku Klux Klan; as an adult, I was starting to wonder if I’d been afraid of the wrong white people all along. My worst fears had come to pass not in Georgia but in Washington, D. C., where I was being pursued not by bigots in white robes but by left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony.
For all the fear I’d known as a boy in Savannah, this was the first time I’d found myself at the mercy of people who would do whatever they could to hurt me—and institutions that had once prided themselves on bringing segregation and its abuses to an end were aiding and abetting in the assault. Hypersensitive civil-rights leaders who saw racism around every corner fell silent when my liberal enemies sneered that I was unqualified to sit on the court; editors and reporters who claimed to be objective substituted a pretense of balance for true fairness, presenting outrageous, wholly unsupported allegations side by side with sputtering denials. The implausible was now being treated more favorably than the obvious.
As for the Senate, it had abandoned all semblance of decorum to consider a set of trumped-up charges better suited to the tabloids than the Congressional Record. I knew of at least one senator sitting in judgment of me against whom accusations of sexual improprieties had been leveled that made Anita’s charges look mild. I wondered how many others had been trapped by their own failings into ignoring the obvious weaknesses of her claims. I was as sickened by their hypocrisy as I was mystified by the sequence of events that had set this hideous farce in motion. P. 254 – 258
From the chapter titled Invitation to a Lynching
“Honey? Honey? I heard a soft voice calling me from out of the breeze. “Honey, it’s after midnight. You have to get up and write your statement.” It was Virginia. I’d dozed off for a few minutes, but now I had to get up and face the horrible nightmare that my life had become. I fought my way back to consciousness, then went back downstairs to the kitchen and sat at the table, which was covered with papers.
I stared at the clutter, unable to summon the energy to do anything. “Clarence, you have to get started,” Virginia said gently. “Here are some suggestions from Nancy Altman.” Nancy was an old friend with whom I’d worked in Senator Danforth’s office and at the Department of Education. Like so many of the other people I knew, she’d offered her help as soon as the story broke. Now Virginia handed me a piece of paper on which she had scribbled down some of Nancy’s ideas.
“I’m confused, Virginia,” I said helplessly. “All these papers on the table have me confused.” She swept them all away and placed a legal pad in front of me. Lord, Give me the wisdom to know what to write and the courage to write it, I prayed. Then I picked up my pen, and all at once the words began to pour out of me. I wrote for four straight hours. Virginia took each handwritten page upstairs and typed it into the computer, editing as she went. Then she printed out a complete draft and we edited it together, finishing around five in the morning. By then we were both punch-drunk with exhaustion—emotional, mental, and physical. We decided to lie down until six, then call Senator Danforth.
I spent the hour tossing, turning, and thinking, and the more I thought, the angrier I got. As a child I’d labored in the South Georgia heat because, Daddy said, it was out lot to work from sun to sun. I’d lived by the rules of society that had treated blacks shabbily and held them back at every turn. I’d plugged away, deferred gratification, eschewed leisure.
Now, in one climactic swipe of calumny, America’s elites were arrogantly wreaking havoc on everything my grandparents had worked for and all I’d accomplished in forty-three years of struggle. Should I have seen it coming? Even as Daddy had been teaching me that hard work would always see me through, my friends in Savannah told me to let go of my foolish dreams. “The man ain’t goin’ let you do nothin’ they had said over and over. “Why you even tryin’?” Now I knew who “the man” was. He’d come at last to kill me, and I had looked upon his hateful, leering face as he slipped his noose of lies around my neck.
Twenty years earlier I’d prayed to God to purge my heart of anger, and since then I had managed to hold the beast of rage at bay. Now it had slipped its leash—but for a very different reason. I didn’t care whether I ever sat on the Supreme Court, but I wasn’t going to let what little my family and I had cobbled together be so wantonly smashed. My enemies wanted nothing more than for me to go quietly. I, on the other hand, owed it to my family and the memory of my grandparents and forebears not to self-destruct but to confront them with the truth.
At six o’clock Virginia and I got out of bed. The flame of anger burning inside me had done its work. I called Senator Danforth and read him my statement. He made only two suggestions, both of which I accepted: I cut out the usual expressions of gratitude with which witnesses at Senate hearings open their statements, and deleted a reference to the conversation in which Joe Biden had assured me that he’d be my “biggest defender” if Anita Hills charges became public. That, Senator Danforth said, would be counterproductive. Virginia printed out the final draft of the statement, and we dressed, prayed, and left for Capitol Hill. The man was waiting for me there—and this time, with God’s help, I would be ready for him. P. 259-260
From the chapter titled Going to meet the Man
“A little later the White House operator patched through a call from Jehan Sedat, Anwar Sadat’s widow. We had never met, and I was touched that she took the trouble to call me, though what she said touched me even more: “Judge Thomas, they are just talking about words. They are laughing at the United States around the world.” I reminded her that I hadn’t really said any of the things Anita had accused me of saying, “It does not matter,” she repeated. “They are just words. Women around the world are suffering real oppression. This is nothing in comparison. The whole thing is silly.” And so it was—except, of course, that this silliness had done great harm to my family and me. It buoyed me up to know that someone of her stature, who had devoted much of her life to women’s issues around the world, understood what was really happening in Washington. I wasn’t crazy after all. P. 276
From the chapter titled Going to meet the Man
“What was supposed to have been a brief courtesy call on Justice Marshall ballooned into a two and a half hour visit, and I loved every minute of it. He regaled me with tales of his long, remarkable career as a civil rights lawyer. “I would have been shoulder to shoulder with you back then—if I’d had the courage,” I said.
“I did in my time what I had to do,” Justice Marshall replied. “You have to do in your time what you have to do.” Those words have stayed with me, too.” P. 286
From the chapter titled Going to meet the Man
“The ceremony itself was simple. Virginia and I were photographed for the Court’s records. Then I was seated in the “John Marshall chair” located just in front of and to the right of the long Court Bench, named in honor of the longest serving Chief Justice in the history of the Supreme Court. The courtroom was packed with friends, family, Court officials, and members of the Supreme Court Bar. Acting Attorney General William P. Barr moved that the Clerk of the Court read the presidential commission issued to me as an associate justice Chief Justice Rehnquist granted the motion and the clerk read:
Know ye; That reposing special trust and confidence in the Wisdom, Uprightness, and Learning of Clarence Thomas, of Georgia, I have nominated, and, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, do appoint him as Associate Justice of The United States and do authorize and empower him to execute and fulfill the duties of that Office according to the Constitution and the Laws of the said United States…
I heard the words, but the man who was reading them was a million miles away. Without warning, memories of home, my grandparents, and the accumulated toil of the last four decades swirled through my mind, numbing me to the proceedings. I thought I was going to collapse as pent-up emotions erupted within me.
I looked at Virginia, always loving but hurt by the confirmation process and anxious about the future. I looked at Leola, stripped of thirty pounds by worry and stress. Above all I thought of my grandparents, wishing more than anything else that they could be with me. They had believed, worked, and sacrificed, not knowing where their labors would lead but trusting that their boys would do well. They could not possibly have dreamed of this moment—yet it was theirs.
I heard the distant, authoritative voice of the Chief Justice of the United States of America: “I now ask the chief deputy clerk of the Court to escort Justice Thomas to the bench.” I walked with suddenly stiff legs to the steps of the raised bench and saw the seven men and one woman with whom I would now sit. They looked at me, imposing but pleasant. My mouth went dry and my tongue grew thick.
“Justice Thomas, are you prepared to take the oath?”
“I am.”
“Then repeat after me: I, Clarence Thomas, do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to person, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all of the duties incumbent upon me as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.”

Struggling to control my surging emotions, I repeated the oath, thinking as I did so of how Daddy and Aunt Tina had raised me to fulfill it. Any job worth doing, they had told me, is worth doing right. This, I knew, was a job worth doing right.” P. 286 – 287

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