Clarence Thomas is the second African American to sit on the United States Supreme Court, preceded only by Thurgood Marshall who served on the United States Supreme Court from 1967 to 1991. Clarence Thomas was nominated to the United States Supreme Court in July 1991 and was approved by the United States Senate by a very narrow margin in October of 1991. Throughout his term on the United States Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas has been both hailed and criticized. He has been both compared to Thurgood Marshall and nicknamed an Uncle Tom. Throughout this paper, I will discuss United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, including his early childhood, his career up to the point where he was nominated for the United States Supreme Court, his Supreme Court nomination, and his career on the United States Supreme Court.
Clarence Thomas, the Early Years
Clarence Thomas was born on June 23, 1948 in the town of Pin Point, Georgia near Savannah. Pin Point, founded after the Civil War by freedmen, is a small predominately black community. His mother was a domestic worker and his father, a farm worker. Clarence Thomas’s first language was not actually English, instead he and his family spoke Gullah as a first language. His father left the family when he was two years old. His mother, although a hard worker, often had trouble providing for her two sons, Clarence and his younger brother Myers. Furthermore, as a result of a house fire, Clarence’s family became homeless. At this time, Clarence, his younger brother, and his mother, moved in with his grandparents in Savannah, Georgia.
Clarence Thomas was the first person in his family to attend college. At first considering entering the priesthood, Clarence Thomas first attended Conception Seminary College for a brief time. After his brief stint in religious school, he attended College of Holy Cross in Worchester, Massachusetts. Clarence Thomas graduated with an A.B. cum laude from Holy Cross in 1971 with a degree in English literature. He received his Juris Doctor from Yale Law School in 1974, graduating near the middle of his class. In September of 1974, Clarence Thomas was admitted to the Missouri bar.
Clarence Thomas experience a significant amount of racism when he began applying for jobs after graduating from Yale Law School. In fact, he found that the Yale Law degree did not hold the same value to him that he thought that it would. Clarence Thomas served as an Assistant Attorney General in the state of Missouri for three years. He served as Assistant Attorney General under State Attorney General John Danforth. After three years, Clarence Thomas went into private practice. In 1979, he began work for Danforth again, then U.S. Senator Danforth, as a Legislative Assistant. In 1981, Clarence Thomas began work for the United States Department of Education as an Assistant Secretary of Education for the Office for Civil Rights. After this Clarence Thomas began work for the Equal Employment opportunity Commission as Chairman. At the end of 1989, then president, George Bush, nominated Clarence Thomas for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Clarence Thomas served 19 months on the federal court bench.
The Senate Confirmation Hearing of Clarence Thomas
Many may not realize that Clarence Thomas was not George Bush’s first choice for the United States Supreme Court. George Bush nominated federal court First Circuit judge David Souter to the high court in 1990. Only when a second seat, vacated by Thurgood Marshall, became available was Clarence Thomas nominated to the United States Supreme Court. The Senate Confirmation Hearings of Clarence Thomas were some of the most contentious in the history the confirmation hearings for the United States Supreme Court. “Mr. Thomas faced one of the most destructive and personally vicious Supreme Court confirmation hearings in American history –described at the time by Mr. Thomas himself as a ‘high-tech lynching’” (Rivkin, 2008). In fact, the book “Judicious Choices: The New Politics of Supreme Court Confirmations” written by Mark Silverstein describes today’s nominations to high courts and the Supreme Court as products of intense political battles and fierce media attention (See Mohr, 2001). One reason for this is because the ideology of a Supreme Court Justice can have a significant impact on the way he or she rules. Therefore, the president, who is a member of a certain political party may want someone with an ideology that is similar to the beliefs of his party. Another reason for the highly publicized, hotly debated confirmations hearings of today, has to do with the media and the America public’s interest in the personal lives of their public figures. During Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearing, his reputation was called into question on numerous occasions. Both his character and his integrity needed to be defended after taking major hits from his opposition. Furthermore, there was vicious accusations of sexual harassment committed by Clarence Thomas against Anita Hill.
United States Supreme Court
One of the main duties of a United States Supreme Court Justice is to interpret the United States Constitution. And Associate Justice Clarence Thomas has some definite views on how the constitution should be interpreted. “Both in his opinions and public interviews, Justice Clarence Thomas often claims that fidelity to original intent and constitutional text is the most important element of constitutional interpretation. He claims that the best was for a judge to keep his personal views out of his judicial decisions is through rigid adherence to the text and history of the Constitution” (Segall, 2013). In fact, Clarence Thomas has been described as the most conservative member of the United States Supreme Court. In fact an article appearing in the Penn state Law Review entitled, “Black Like Me: the Free Speech Jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas” by Steven Lichtman described Clarence Thomas as “arguable the most ferocious conservative on the Supreme Court” (Lichtman, 2009, p. 415). Clarence Thomas tends to vote with Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Scalia in his decisions.
Reasons For the Criticism of Clarence Thomas
Clarence Thomas has faced criticism from all sides for decades. There are a number of reasons for this criticism. Those involved with civil rights have criticized Clarence Thomas for his views on this issue as well. “Civil rights leaders can’t abide the fact that he is stanchly opposed to racial preferences in education, voting rights, and government employment and contracting” (Franck, 2014). Furthermore, feminist still criticize Clarence Thomas for the sexual harassment allegations levied against him. Some have attacked Clarence Thomas stating that is opinions are poorly written; still, other believe that his opinions are very well written.
Clarence Thomas, the second African American to even serve on the United States Supreme Court, arguably took one of the most interesting paths to the United States Supreme Court. He grew up with little wealth as a child and was even homeless for a time. His father left his family when he was a young age, and he, his mother, and his younger brother, had to move in with his grandparents for a time. His first language was not English as a child; instead his family spoke Gullah. He considered joining the priesthood before attending College of Holy Cross. Next, attended Yale Law School, but upon graduation he discovered his Yale Law degree was not worth as much as he thought it should be due to racism. After a number of legal jobs in the public sector, as well as a short time in the private sector, Clarence Thomas was nominated to be a federal judge by George H. W. Bush. After serving only 19 month on the federal court, Clarence Thomas was nominated to the United States Supreme Court. His confirmation hearing was one of the most controversial ever, with Thomas getting the nod by a very slim margin of victory. Thomas is considered to be the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court. He is also an originalist when interpreting the United States Constitution. He has been criticized by many for a number of differ reasons; yet, Clarence Thomas is still a well-respected member of the United States Supreme Court.
Fracnck, Matthew J. “Declaration Man: How Justice Clarence Thomas Earned His Enemies.”
The Witherspoon Institution. March 18, 2014.
Lichtmen, Steven B. “Black Like Me: The Free speech Jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas.”
Penn State Law Review. (2009) Vol. 114:2.
Mohr, A. J. “Judicious Choices: The New Politics of Supreme Court Confirmations.” Los Angeles
Lawyer. May 2001.
Rivkin, D. B. and Casey, L. A. “Mr. Constitution.” The Wall Street Journal. March 22, 2008.
Segall, E. J. “Justice Thomas and Affirmative Action: Bad Faith, Confusion or Both.” Wake
Forest Law Review Online. February 15, 2013.