Judiciary

The Quiet Rise of Clarence Thomas

A new documentary tells the story of one of our nation's most brilliant jurists.

Brian Mark Weber · May 29, 2020

The mere mention of the name Clarence Thomas evokes a wide range of opinions on both sides of the political spectrum.

What’s unfortunate is that most Americans have a perception about Thomas created by the media and by the Democrats’ “high-tech lynching” of him during his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Indeed, to get a sense of the real Thomas, one must fight through nearly 30 years of smears, half-truths, and downright lies.

Although the media and Hollywood routinely assassinate the character of every conservative woman or African American who achieves political prominence, the sustained attack on Thomas has been especially vicious. And it’s kept many Americans from ever knowing the true man.

That’s what makes the latest documentary about Thomas a must-see.

“Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in his Own Words” premiered in select theaters around the country earlier this year, but now plays on PBS stations for all to see.

The documentary reveals an amazing American life that even admirers of Thomas may find surprising. For example, the conservative jurist once learned the speeches of Malcom X, marched with black nationalists, and nearly entered the priesthood. Of course, he was also deeply affected by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Less surprising, perhaps, is that Thomas learned important lessons from his childhood such as the value of hard work and a good education.

There’s so much to the man that we rarely see.

“Thomas has been described by the leading lights of the media as bitter, a loner, a brooding recluse,” writes The Spectator’s Robert Curry. “The real Clarence Thomas is the opposite of the fictitious one. Thomas is a man with a sunny disposition who likes people and is liked by the people who know him. He is also brilliant and eloquent.” Curry adds that “his life is one of those great American stories like the life of Abraham Lincoln, a story of overcoming great adversity to achieve great things and personal greatness.”

What’s interesting is that this story is being told in the wake of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, which were eerily reminiscent of Thomas’s own experience in 1991. “Democrats did to Kavanaugh what they had done to Thomas years prior in an attempt to derail Kavanaugh’s confirmation,” explains the Washington Examiner’s Kaylee McGhee. “They elevated not just one but several accusers who could not corroborate their stories or provide substantive evidence backing their troubling, and in some cases, outlandish claims.”

Thomas claims he was “the wrong black man,” alluding to the fact that he wasn’t an ideological successor to the first black man on the Supreme Court, the then-recently retired Thurgood Marshall, and that conservative blacks are held to a different standard than their liberal counterparts.

Thomas survived an unprecedented assault during his confirmation hearings, the centerpiece of which was a dubious accusation of sexual harassment by a former staffer, Anita Hill. The controversial hearings were led by none other than Joe Biden, who was then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and who now finds himself the subject of accusations of sexual assault. Thomas was ultimately confirmed to the Supreme Court by the narrowest of margins, 52-48. Yet despite three decades of negative media portrayals, today the tide now seems to be turning in Thomas’s favor.

He’s become more outspoken, and both a recent book and film portray him in a more favorable and objective light. To conservatives, Thomas has become something of an icon in the way that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is to the Left.

As a senior member of the Court, Thomas now seems to be hitting his stride. As Nicholas Casey writes in The New York Times, “His legal views spent the 1990s and the early 2000s bottled up as dissents and concurrences that his colleagues often did not sign onto. Now, many are becoming the law of the land.”

Thomas, at 71, is the Court’s third-oldest justice, behind Ginsburg (87) and her fellow leftist Stephen Breyer (81), but recent rumors about him retiring from the Supreme Court are as yet unfounded. His strong, principled voice on the High Court is needed now more than ever, and it’s about time more Americans are finally getting to know him.

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