'Silent' Justice Outspoken on Affirmative Action

Clarence Thomas says his Yale law degree "bore the taint of racial preference."

ByABC News
September 28, 2007, 4:41 PM

Sept. 30, 2007— -- Although Clarence Thomas has written his views on preferential policies in his Supreme Court opinions, the release of his book and his interview with ABC News provide an opportunity for the justice to explain, more thoroughly then ever before, why he thinks racial preferences are wrong and detrimental.

His views have long vexed civil rights groups, but they also differ from the traditional conservative outlook and might re-shape the nation's debate over affirmative action. While conservatives often talk about leveling the playing field for society as a whole, Thomas focuses on the stigmatizing effect affirmative action has on those it is meant to help.

Clarence Thomas's personal experience, living through segregated elementary schools and then transitioning to mostly white schools, gives him a starkly different perspective from that of white conservatives opposed to affirmative action.

"When you talk about affirmative action programs you talk about the benefits and the costs." says Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a group critical of racial preferences. "Thomas can talk about costs with a credibility you can't have if you are not a supposed beneficiary of affirmative action."

When Thomas applied to Yale Law School, his race was taken into consideration. He wrote in his book, "I asked Yale to take that fact into account when I applied, not thinking that there might be anything wrong with doing so."

But Thomas says that after he graduated from Yale, he went on several job interviews with "one high-priced lawyer" after another and the attorneys treated him dismissively. "Many asked pointed questions, unsubtly suggesting that they doubted I was as smart as my grades indicated."

The fact that he couldn't get a job would shape his thoughts on affirmative action programs for years to come. Thomas wrote, "Now I knew what a law degree from Yale was worth when it bore the taint of racial preference. I was humiliatedand desperate."