Justice Thomas Breaks Silence on Bitter Confirmation Hearings

Thomas Speaks Out in New Autobiography, 'My Grandfather's Son'


Sept. 28, 2007 —

He is the Supreme Court's most reticent justice, rarely speaking from the bench. But in his new memoir, Clarence Thomas doesn't mince words -- particularly when it comes to desribing the bitter 1991 confirmation hearings that he famously dubbed a "high-tech lynching."

The book, for which Thomas reportedly received a $1.5 million advance, is set to hit store shelves on Monday. ABC News obtained an advance copy from a source other than the publisher. In it, Thomas indicates that he had a premonition of trouble before he was even nominated. Upon hearing from conservative activist Paul Weyrich that he would be the next nominee, his reaction is telling: "I felt sick." He'd watched, he explains, what had happened to previous nominees Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg -- both of whom, he notes, were white -- and says he was reluctant to expose himself to the "wrath" of "white liberals" whose "broadmindedness stopped well short of tolerating blacks who disagreed with them."

But Thomas had little idea of what would actually unfold -- culminating, of course, in the sexual harassment accusations leveled by his former employee, Anita Hill. Indeed, he says he actually had thought Hill might be one of the few "liberals" he could call as a character witness.

A good portion of Thomas' book -- titled "My Grandfather's Son" -- is devoted to his upbringing by his maternal grandfather, a man he called "Daddy." Myers Anderson was a barely literate man who ruled over Thomas and his brother with an "iron will," but who also made sure they got an education. He brought Thomas into the Catholic Church -- he found its order and discipline preferable to the Baptist Church to which so many Southern blacks belonged. The religious education Thomas received is clearly central to his outlook today.

So were his encounters with racism -- from a white student who passed him a note that read "I like Martin Luther King ... dead" to lighter-skinned blacks who made fun of his dark skin tones. Throughout the book, Thomas describes wrestling with "the beast of rage" -- a beast he says he learned to put to rest when he turned away from radical politics as a college student and began embracing the conservative ideology that has now come to define him as a justice.

But that rage resurfaces as he recounts the details of his confirmation fight and the events leading up to it. Thomas describes his relationship with Hill over the years, painting her as a difficult and insecure employee who, he implies, had feelings for him. He hired Hill to work for him at the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education, he says, as a favor to a friend -- a "fateful blunder." At the time, she had been working at a top law firm -- and when he asked her why she wanted to leave to go work at an obscure government agency, he says she told him a partner at the firm had asked her out and -- after she said no -- began giving her bad work assignments. Hill's work, according to Thomas "wasn't outstanding," but he found it "adequate."

He says she later followed him to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, telling him: "You're a rising star." They later had a falling-out of sorts when he passed her over for a promotion, and says he was relieved when she left the EEOC to take a job in academia. After that, he says he heard from her from time to time, "almost always when she wanted something."

On the day Hill held her first press conference, Thomas describes his reaction: "I lost my grip," asking, "How could someone I'd tried to help turn on me so viciously?" That night, he says, he went home and "curled up in a fetal position." In what Thomas describes as a "dark night of the soul," he says he had a stark realization: "I'd been nominated to sit on the Supreme Court -- but my refusal to swallow the liberal pieties that had done so much damage to blacks in America meant that I had to be destroyed."

Thomas was, of course, confirmed -- by a margin of 52 to 48. His reaction upon hearing that news from his wife: "Whoop-dee damn-do." He says he thought to himself: "Where do I go to get my reputation back?"

In this book, at least, Thomas makes clear that he is still intent on trying to recover it.