Anger Still Fresh in Clarence Thomas' Memoir

Book review of "Grandfather's Son"

ByABC News
October 3, 2007, 9:43 AM

Oct. 3, 2007 — -- Sixteen years have passed since Clarence Thomas joined the Supreme Court, but his remarkable, awful and bizarre confirmation hearing may still be better known than anything he has said or done since.

Now Justice Thomas has told his own side of that story in an autobiography chronicling his life from his birth in Pinpoint, Ga., until his confirmation battle. It is called "My Grandfather's Son."

Thomas' anger seems as fresh now as it did in 1991 when he called the hearings "a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves." None of this is entirely new. What is new is that Thomas has chosen to write about these events now, 16 years later, as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Of Anita Hill, the woman who accused Thomas of pressuring her to date him while she worked as a lawyer in his office, he writes that she was an outspoken liberal who detested President Reagan, but he hired her anyway when a close friend asked him to "help a sister." He describes her work for him as "mediocre."

In her last year at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission , he says, she stopped coming to morning meetings "as a result of a quarrel with another staff member," she displayed "a rude attitude toward the other members of my staff" and she "seemed far too interested in my social calendar."

In a somewhat pettier vein, he adds that she had "bad breath," that the idea he might have wanted to date her was "laughable," that nobody on his staff liked her and that "the first thing she did [when she went with Thomas to work at the EEOC] was claim the largest office in my suite."

As to the larger question of why he thinks she testified against him, Thomas guesses that she was motivated by "a combination of ego, ambition and immaturity."

Thomas argues that the Hill hearings were nothing more than the last in a long series of efforts to destroy him and torpedo his nomination to the court. Prior to the leak of Hill's statement, he had already swatted down accusations that ranged from wife-beating to drug abuse to draft dodging. When those efforts failed and it looked as though his confirmation was assured, says Thomas, his opponents stooped to relying upon the racist stereotype of the black man who is a sexual predator.

Thomas does not discuss evidence cited elsewhere to support Hill's claims, such as the Judiciary Committee staff's interview with Angela Wright, another EEOC employee who said that Thomas pressured her to date him in a manner similar to what Hill had described. He believes he doesn't need to prove his innocence to anyone.

"My Grandfather's Son" won't convert any of Thomas' enemies into friends, but he really isn't courting them. He frequently refers to northern liberals as "water moccasins" who quietly sneak close and then strike without warning, then he proceeds to poke them with sticks. He recalls thinking about "cynical politicians" who "sucker voters, claiming to care about the poor while actually exploiting them." He says he supported Reagan in 1980 because "I thought that blacks would be better off if they were left alone instead of being used as guinea pigs for the foolish schemes of dream-killing politicians and their ideological acolytes."

When nominated to the court, his "refusal to swallow the liberal pieties that had done so much damage to blacks meant that I had to be destroyed." And perhaps most extraordinary of all:

"I'd grown up fearing the lynch mobs of the Ku Klux Klan; as an adult, I was starting to wonder if I'd been afraid of the wrong white people all along. My worst fears had come to pass not in Georgia but in Washington, D.C., where I was being pursued not by bigots in white robes but by left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony."

Granted, all these statements refer to how he felt in the past but he doesn't ever say he changed his mind, and he still seems pretty angry. Maybe he has a right to be, but as much as one might sympathize, anger is dangerous for a judge, especially when it is directed at politicians who write laws he is called upon to interpret.

When Thomas isn't tossing hand grenades at his enemies, he is trying to inspire others with the story of his extraordinary life. These are the most interesting and compelling parts of the book. He is the prodigal son, a sinner who once was lost but finds his way home. The story wouldn't be very inspiring if Thomas' life had proceeded smoothly from start to finish, and Thomas makes it clear that his has not. He tells us about drinking too much, not paying his bills on time, leaving his wife. But thanks to the lessons imparted to him by his grandfather, he perseveres despite hardship.

Monica Dolin is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C., and a consultant to ABC News.