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Monday, October 01, 2007 

JCG Interviews Thomas

This has been an exciting time for Court watchers and Justice Clarence Thomas aficionados. Thomas has been everywhere in the media lately to promote his new autobiography. I managed to catch half of his interview on 60 Minutes last night. I would've seen the whole thing, but I was in a medication-induced coma thanks to my current battle with illness. I think I have malaria. Anyway, I enjoyed the interview. I don't think that I've ever heard Justice Thomas' voice that much.

After watching the 60 Minutes episode, I spotted a link to another interview with Thomas. This interview was conducted by ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg. It's quite long, but I highly suggest it. I thought that I would point out some of the highlights.
He says his critics — the people who question whether he is smart or qualified to be on the Court or who suggest he merely does what a white Supreme Court colleague dictates — are as also as bigoted as the whites of his childhood in the deep South.

"People feel free to say about me what they think about lots of blacks," Thomas said in an interview in his chambers at the Supreme Court. "Because of the heterodox views I've taken, they have license to say it about me with impunity."
I've noticed this criticism of Thomas quite often. "He's just following Scalia." "He's Scalia's puppet." Sure, Scalia and Thomas often vote the same way (they agreed in full in 74% of the 06 term's cases). If you consult that same chart, you'll notice that Justices Souter and Ginsburg have the same "agreement in full" percentage. Odd that we never hear about one being referred to as the other's puppet.

Of course, if one where to actually read the opinions written by these Scalia and Thomas, it would be obvious that they have distinct views on the law and the Constitution. The Thomas-as-Scalia's-puppet line is usually parroted by people who know nothing Court aside from what they read on blogs (crappy ones, not finely written ones like this one).

Back to the interview...
"And I always find it fascinating that people who claim, well, you did this because you went to Yale, all these good things happened because you went to Yale," Thomas says. "I couldn't get a job out of Yale Law School."

Thomas came to believe whites assumed he wasn't as smart as his white Yale classmates, and when he couldn't get a job when he was graduating, he saw that as proof: Because he was black, he says, people believed his degree was not as good as a white student's degree. He saw no "benefit" from affirmative action.
Emphasis added. And I thought the job market was bad now... But seriously, this point illustrates Thomas' reasons for opposing affirmative action. AA is discussed a lot in the interview, since it is still a very hot topic and Thomas has written and talked extensively about it. His insights on the subject are very interesting.

This part really popped out at me. At the time, Thomas was working for John Danforth (the a state attorney general)...
He recalls, for example, Danforth stopping by his office when the attorney general was preparing to argue a case defending abortion restrictions. Danforth's position was that the federal government had no business telling the states what to do on abortion. Thomas responded: "The state had no business telling women what to do with their bodies."
This part jumped out at Prof. David Bernstein as well. I know that this statement was made years ago but consider this: Wouldn't it be interesting if Thomas was personally pro-choice? I'm guessing that he probably isn't, but it is possible to follow Thomas' judicial philosophy and still be pro-choice.

This part about Thomas' selection for the Court is interesting...
Had the White House seriously vetted Thomas, or closely analyzed his views, it would have probably been more reluctant to nominate him, because he'd given countless speeches while at EEOC expressing a range of controversial opinions, not only about the law and the Constitution, but also on his critics and his admiration of Louis Farrakhan and the Black Muslim theory of self reliance — all of which would be fodder in his confirmation hearing.
Anita Hill aside, would Thomas be nominated to the Court today? I have my doubts. The vetting process, especially in the current administration, seems very sensitive to things like "countless speeches... expressing a range of controversial opinions." I think that those strict standards developed largely because of the Souter and Thomas nomination experiences of Bush 41.

And finally, the man, the myth, the mouth, Joe Biden...
His confirmation hearing began September 10, 1991, and Thomas immediately was confronted with aggressive questions by Sen. Joe Biden, the committee chairman. In their private meetings before the hearings, Thomas wrote that Biden led him to believe he would begin with "softball questions," but he instead "threw a beanball straight at my head."

He wrote that the words of the song "Smiling Faces" by the Undisputed Truth came into his head: "Smiling faces tell lies/And I got proof."

"Now, I, too, had proof: Senator Biden's smooth, insincere promises that he would treat me fairly were nothing but talk," Thomas wrote.
More Biden...
Biden, by that point, also had seen Hill's detailed statement, which Thomas did not know. But he offered Thomas his assurances: "Judge, I know you don't believe me, but if any of these… matters come up, I will be your biggest defender."

"He was right about one thing: I didn't believe him," Thomas wrote. "Neither did Virginia. As he reassured me of his goodwill, she grabbed a spoon from the silverware drawer, opened her mouth wide, stuck out her tongue as far she could, and pretended to gag herself."
I laughed about this part for a while.

Thomas also talks about his problems with alcohol, his gripes about the Reagan Administration's handling of race issues, and his financial difficulties. I know I sound like a broken record, but the interview is excellent. I'm looking forward to reading Thomas' book.

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