Clarence Thomas: A Silent Justice Speaks Out

Clarence Thomas: A Silent Justice Speaks Out


Sept. 30, 2007— -- By the end of the hearings, polls showed the vast majority of Americans believed Thomas and disbelieved Hill. He wrote of the deluge of mail he received from supporters, the prayer offerings — even gift cards for McDonald's. He says he also received a sobering warning: the marshals told him to wear a bullet proof vest.

The White House hastily scheduled his public swearing-in ceremony for that Friday, and hundreds of people gathered. Reporters wrote that the White House moved forward so quickly because it was worried other women who had allegedly been harassed by Thomas would soon be coming forward, but no others beyond Hill and Angela Wright (who had been prepared to testify Thomas had made a comment about her body and is not mentioned in his book) ever did in the years that followed.

During the ceremony, Thomas wrote that he alluded to Psalm 30 when he said there was "joy in the morning."

"Thanks to God's direct intervention, I had risen phoenix-like from the ashes of self-pity and despair, and though my wounds were still raw, I trusted that in time they, too, would heal," he wrote.

The Thomases talk about the experience as almost one of spiritual warfare, and they hold hands when they discuss what they went through. Virginia says she believes Hill owes them an apology — for "not telling the truth" and for "infecting" his life story.

"I'm sure she got swept up into something bigger than she may have understood at the beginning of whatever she was doing," Virginia says, "but I think she owes us an apology and I look forward to receiving that phone call or that visit one day."

Thomas says he slowly rebuilt his life and has put the hearings behind them. His opponents were "playing a fine little cynical political game," he says, "but in the end it leaves you with a life you have to live."

"Think of those little ants. They run around with that one little grain of sand, one little grain of sand. They're always working, always working. Then somebody comes along and just kicks it over, just for the heck of it. 'We don't like ants,'" Thomas says of going through that time. "Then they run around a little minute, then scurry and then they start building another one. You see? And so that's what you have to do with your life, and that's the hand that's dealt you."

The rage on display in the book, he says, was how he felt at the time. Now, he says, he thanks God for something else: that the battle occurred, and that he survived. As much as he longs to be a private and anonymous man — which he will not be, certainly with the publication of his book — the hearings also proved he would not allow himself to become an invisible man.

"I'm free. I'm totally free to do what I believe is right and to be independent," Thomas says. "Now it comes at a very high price, but I truly thank God for the hearings and for the criticisms, etc., because it's freed me," He says. I'm a free person, totally free to do what I think is right.

"Right is right. It doesn't matter what they say," Thomas says. "As my grandfather used to say, 'They've got a lifetime to get pleased.'"

He is not home, he says. He says he recognized at 19 he would never be able to go home again. But he is at ease in both worlds, he says, white and black.

"I'm comfortable with those who are highly educated, and I am probably equally comfortable with those who are barely educated. I like the engine mechanics. I like the guy who changes tires. I am very comfortable with people who have written dozens of books," he says. "So I'm comfortable at the Court, but I'm also comfortable with people who don't even know how many members of the Court there are.

"I have not only lived in those worlds, I have had to traverse them all. I've had to be a part of them," he says. "When I go to a restaurant, the people who are busing the tables, they are working jobs that my relatives worked. And I love being with my relatives, I love being with my friends. So yes, I'm in and out of these worlds, and I'm very comfortable in all of them."

He says he never wanted to be on the Court, but that he sees it as a duty — doing his service to the country. If he had not been a judge, he says he probably would have "headed either to the Midwest or to the South and run a business and lived a quiet, private life.

"That's my preferred way of life," he says. "I like to go to tailgate at football games on Saturdays, anonymously. I like to be in my motor home, anonymously. I'd like to be a part of a community, do volunteer work, run a business the way I think a business should have been run. I had my own ideas about running a medium-size business. But that didn't happen."

He gets out of Washington as much as he can, and he does much of his Court work in his home office, where he is connected to the Court's computer system. He drives all over the country with Virginia in his motor home, and he enjoys meeting the "regular people," as he puts it.

"I like being me. I've always liked being me. I mean, other people may have problems with it, because, as my mother said when I was born, 'You're pretty stubborn.' So maybe I am," he says. "But I just don't have any problems with being me. The biggest drawback in this job has been the loss of anonymity. I love just my private life, my anonymity, to walk around, to walk on the Mall. Those things are gone, but, again, what a small price to pay."

Thomas says he's often asked what he thinks his legacy will be. He responds that he doesn't even think about it.

"What I think about is doing my job, and the only thing that I would suggest anybody care about saying about me when I'm gone is that, 'He did his best.' That's it. There's nothing more to say," Thomas says.

"'He did his honest best,'" Thomas says, "'and then he went on about his life.'"