Clarence Thomas: A Silent Justice Speaks Out

Later that afternoon, Thomas is summoned back to the committee. He hadn't seen Hill's testimony, and he wrote that he didn't want to hear from anyone about it. He asked Danforth to make everyone leave, and he wrote that he "lay back on the couch, surrounded by the darkness of early evening, drifting in the liminal space between sleep and waking."

Danforth was making notes on a legal pad, and he read them aloud to Thomas. At that point, Thomas wrote, his thoughts crystallized into a single phrase: "This is a high-tech lynching."

Thomas wrote that he must have been thinking of To Kill a Mockingbird, when small-town lawyer Atticus Finch defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. And Thomas quotes from Finch's closing argument in Tom Robinson's trial, how the witnesses against him had the "cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption — the evil assumption — that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women."

"I knew exactly what Atticus Finch was talking about," Thomas wrote. "I had lived my whole life knowing Tom's fate might be mine."

"The mob I now faced carried no ropes or guns," Thomas wrote. "Its weapons were smooth-tongued lies spoken into microphones and printed on the front pages of America's newspapers. It no longer sought to break the bodies of its victims. Instead it devastated their reputations and drained away their hope.

"But it was a mob all the same, and its purpose — to keep the black man in his place — was unchanged." Thomas wrote. "Strip away the fancy talk and you were left with the same old story: You can't trust black men around women. This one may be a big-city judge with a law degree from Yale, but when you get right down to it, he's just like the rest of them. They all do that sort of thing whenever they get the chance, and no woman would ever lie about it."

As he describes his emotions, his words of rage literally leap of the page. When he enters the hearing room and takes his seat, he levels his own assault.

"This is a circus. It is a national disgrace," his voice in tightly focused anger. "And from my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I am concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that, unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you, you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree."

He wrote that his words "seemed to hang in the air of the Caucus Room like the smoke from a bomb that had just exploded." Alabama Senator Howell Heflin, whose uncle, Thomas notes, "once graced the Senate as an apologist for the Ku Klux Klan," began the questioning and seemed surprised Thomas when said he had not watched Hill's testimony.

Heflin: "Judge if you are on the bench and you approach a case where you appear to have a closed mind and that you are only right, doesn't it raise issues of judicial temperament?"

Thomas: "Senator. Senator, there is a big difference between approaching a case objectively and watching yourself being lynched. There is no comparison whatsoever."

Thomas wrote that he believes Heflin was reverting back to the roles blacks and whites had long played on the Old South.

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