Saturday, June 5, 2010

Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas graduated from St. John Vianney Minor Seminary in 1967. He was one of two African-American students at the otherwise all-white Savannah, Georgia school. He had come to the school from St. Pius, an all-African-American institution. In Thomas's 2007 memoir My Grandfather's Son, he describes his attitude during his St. John years in the caption that accompanies his 1964-1965 yearbook photo (seen above): "I was scared and serious - and determined to excel." The future conservative star and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court did excel in his education and became co-editor of the school newspaper, The Pioneer. It was in the editorial pages of the November-December 1966 issue of the paper that Thomas offered his only known contemporaneous thoughts on race relations during this period of his life:

Is it disastrous or auspicious? Well, looking back, I notice that the violence and hatred which developed from the acquisition of equality of all races seem to indicate that a disaster has gripped our country. Just to keep the records straight, I don't believe that one race is more to blame than the other. There are times when one ethnic group provokes the other until there is a violent eruption of anger and, consequently, more melees, picketing and rioting.

But why can't black and white live in harmony? This is quite a question. I am sure some Stokely Carmichaels would quite readily assert that if there were fewer George Wallaces, race could live together with no friction, while the George Wallaces would, of course, pay the same compliment to their accusers. These conclusions do not offer a solution, but on the contrary, make matters worse.

I think races would fare better if extremists would crawl back into their holes, and let the people, whome this will really affect, do just a little thinking for themselves, rather than follow the Judas goats of society into the slaughter pens of destruction. True, the intellectuals must start the ball rolling, but ignorance in the intelligengensia is not unheard of.
It's about time for the average American to rise from his easy chair and do what he really and truly believes God demands of him--time to peel off the veil of hate and contempt, and don the cloak of love (black for white and white for black). 

By the time Thomas arrived for his freshman year of college at Holy Cross in Worchester, Massachusetts in 1968, his views on racial issues were changing. A few months into his first year at Holy Cross, he helped organize the school's first Black Student Union, he started to wear army fatigues and he put a poster of Malcolm X on his dorm room wall. One of the planks of the Black Student Union charter asserted that "The Black Man does not want or need the white woman." Thomas wrote a poem around this time that called for black men to treat black women with respect - an ironic bit of verse in view of the later allegations by Anita Hill. It was also from this period of his life that the first accounts of Thomas's inappropriate discussions of sex emerge.

Several years later, at Yale Law School, Thomas's fascination with sex and pornography was even better known to his fellow students. In the 2007 biography of the justice entitled Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas, authors Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher quote several classmates on the subject of Thomas's X-rated movie fixation. Perhaps no recollection is as strong as Dan Johnson's. Johnson is featured on page 129 of the book conveying his memory of Thomas's revelation about his high regard for a certain landmark sex film: "My favorite movie of all time is Deep Throat," Johnson quotes Thomas as exclaiming. And if that weren't enough to get the point across, the future justice added, "I've seen that mother-fu**er six times." Other classmates told the authors about how Thomas would revel in descriptions of some of the things he had seen in films of the genre. Similar accounts are offered in Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson's definitive book on the Thomas confirmation drama, Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas.

Thomas's romance with porn was undiminished by the time he was a young Republican bureaucrat in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s. Indeed, it apparently flourished with the advent of inexpensive VCRs and video rental outlets. As told in Supreme Discomfort, Fred Cooke, a professional acquaintance of Thomas's, once saw the then-chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at Graffiti, a video store near Dupont Circle, renting a particularly smutty title. Cooke told the story to his friends at the time, but despite pressure to do so, refrained from coming forward during the confirmation hearings. According to the book, Cooke felt that Thomas should have been rejected by the Senate for his judicial mediocrity, not the sideshow of his porn hobby.

Of course, Thomas managed to get through the sensational hearings of late 1991 by resolutely denying all of Anita Hill's explosive sexual harassment claims. The vote for his confirmation was an extremely close 52 to 48. Subsequent to his confirmation, Thomas and his wife, Virginia Lamp Thomas, began an image rehabilitation effort that struck some of his new colleagues on the bench as unseemly. A People magazine cover story written by Mrs. Thomas that depicted Anita Hill as a spurned, jealous woman was particularly offensive to Sandra Day O'Connor. As reported in Strange Justice, O'Connor was described by one clerk as being "aghast" at the immodest behavior.  

In 1994 Thomas broke with court decorum again by officiating right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh's marriage to an aerobics instructor (this was the third of, so far, four unions for Limbaugh). Present at the small wedding, which was held at the justice's home, were family members and two couples who served as witnesses: William and Elaine Bennett and Mary Matalin and James Carville. In 2010 Thomas settled for merely being a guest at the radio host's fourth wedding.

In the years that Thomas has been on the court, he has been an exceedingly dependable conservative voice. He is especially dismissive of cases claiming torture. This is noteworthy in part because one of Thomas's former clerks is none other than "Torture Memo" guru John C. Yoo. Professor Yoo is now shaping young legal minds at the University of California Berkeley Law School.

Towards the end of Strange Justice, the authors offer a quote from Thomas extracted from former Senator John C. Danforth's (Thomas's friend and adviser during the 1991 hearings) book Resurrection. The comment is telling in that it reflects Thomas's strategy to mask elements of his true philosophy during his confirmation battle: "if you are yourself, like [failed Supreme Court nominee] Bob Bork, you're dead."

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