As a lawyer, it is quite natural to think about whom in my profession I admire the most. For me, it has always been United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Justice Thomas was born on June 23, 1948 in Pin point, Georgia. Pin Point is located in a coastal region in the southeastern part of our state. He grew up with his older sister Emma Mae and younger brother Myers Lee. His father disappeared early on in his life, and the family divided even further when he was nine years old. Struggling financially, his mother sent him and his brother to live with her father and stepmother in nearby Savannah.
His grandfather encouraged him to pursue a religious life. During high school, Thomas decided to transfer to St. John Vianney Minor Seminary, a first step to becoming a Catholic priest. He graduated in 1967 and then continued his studies after Immaculate Conception Seminary in Missouri. However, he would change course.
In 1968, Thomas went to Holy Cross College, in Massachusetts, where he studied English. After college, he went to Yale University Law School. After law school, Justice Thomas worked as an assistant to Missouri Attorney General John Danforth.
After several years working as a lawyer in the private sector, he later moved to Washington where he eventually received several appointments from President Ronald Reagan. His most prominent post was as the chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1982.
On a more personal note, Justice Thomas also made the decision in 1983 to quit drinking. His decision would serve him well in the upcoming challenges that he would face.
After serving our country at the EEOC, President George H.W. Bush nominated him to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He was easily confirmed by the Senate.
In 1991, President Bush nominated Thomas to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. While initially reluctant to accept this nomination, Justice Thomas’ sense of duty to our nation led him to honor the request of the President.
As I have noted in previous columns over the years, his confirmation hearing was a historical embarrassment for the United States Senate. Some Senators, primarily from the Northeast, waged a war of character assassination against a sitting judge that had never been seen before in our country.
For example, one of his former aides at the EEOC, Anita Hill, testified at the hearings and made such outrageous claims against him that they are inappropriate to detail in this column. However, she and her minions were unsuccessful. Justice Thomas was approved by the Senate by a 52-48 vote. His courage throughout the confirmation process made him a legend.
Since his appointment in 1991, Thomas has often sided with his fellow conservatives on the court. He supports the idea of a very limited federal government in his opinions and speeches. He is also the most quiet and humble of the nine justices. He rarely asks questions during oral arguments. Of course he is criticized by some for his lack of questioning lawyers during court sessions.
However, he seems to believe that listening with his two ears may be more important than excessive questioning and talking with his one mouth during judicial proceedings. Many people, including myself, can learn from Clarence Thomas on the importance of listening versus talking.
I have recently learned that Justice Thomas may be coming back to the University of Georgia for a visit in the spring. I plan on being there if he comes. For me, it would be one of the highest honors to meet “Georgia’s Favorite Son”, Clarence Thomas.
(For an in depth reading of the life of Clarence Thomas, pick up the book, My Grandfather’s Son).