MY GRANDFATHER’S SON I would think that most people can pick out the one person they admire or inspires them the most in their profession, job, or other life’s work. My choice has always been easy; Supreme Court of the United States Associate 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. His father disappeared early on in his life. Struggling financially, his mother sent him and his brother to live with her father and stepmother in nearby Savannah.
Thomas was very close to his grandfather. He considered himself to be “his grandfather’s son.” His grandfather encouraged him to pursue a religious life. Thomas started this journey, but God had other plans for him.
In 1968, he 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. Danforth, later to become a U.S. Senator, would mentor Thomas throughout Thomas’ career.
After several years working as a lawyer in the private sector, he moved to Washington D.C. 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 where he was easily confirmed by the Senate.
In 1991, President H.W. 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, like Biden (Del), Kennedy (Mass) and others waged a war of character assassination against him that had only been seen once before in our country with the failed nomination of Judge Robert Bork just a few years earlier.
During Thomas’ hearings, powerful enemies, who opposed Thomas ideologically and for other reasons I will not mention met with one of his former aides at the EEOC, Anita Hill. Hill testified at the hearings and made such outrageous claims against him that they are inappropriate to detail in this column. These claims, which were out of character for Clarence Thomas, were never proven. But, in law and politics, accusations alone will tarnish a person. However, Hill, public interest groups, and senators across the country were unsuccessful. Justice Thomas was confirmed by the Senate by a 52-48 vote. His courage throughout the confirmation process made him a legend and that quality is what I primarily admire the most about him.
Justice Thomas has proven that he supports the idea of a very limited federal government in his opinions and speeches. He is a textualist, meaning that he looks to the plain text of a law and interprets it based on what the words say; as opposed to what he would like the words to say. He has always resisted the tendency to create social policy; which is the function of the 2nd Branch of government; Congress. He is also the most quiet and humble of the nine justices. He rarely asks questions during oral arguments. (Between 2006-2016, he did not ask a single question). Many of his critics say that his lack of questioning lawyers during oral arguments shows that he is somehow unintelligent.
However, he believes that listening is more important than excessive questioning; a lesson that all of us, especially me, could benefit from. Whether you agree or disagree with his judicial philosophy, opinions, or persona, it still baffles me that extreme personal disdain for this American hero exists. Who do you admire that blazed trails, mentored you in your work, or provides an example for all to admire?
(For an in depth reading of the life of Clarence Thomas, pick up the book, My Grandfather’s Son).