It's 1991 All Over Again: The Thomas-Hill controversy returns

BlogHer Original Post

When Associate Justice Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court, back in 1991, his supporters wove a narrative about him that emphasized his character, intelligence and education, instead of more traditional qualifications such as experience before the Court or on the bench. Thomas had only been a judge for 18 months before the nomination, and had run two federal agencies and worked as a Congressional aide before that.

As Justice Thomas staged a publicity blitz this week on behalf of his new memoir, My Grandfather's Son, one would have expected that the journalists who had a chance to interview him would have devoted some questions to the substantial judicial record he has amassed in the last 16 years.

One would be wrong. In his new book (which I have not yet read) and in interviews, Thomas apparently devotes considerable attention to defending his character.
In a softball interview for "60 Minutes", Thomas talked about his racial pride, compared the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings to the KKK, and cast aspersions on the character of Anita Hill, his former protege turned accuser. In today's New York Times, Prof. Hill struck back, saying, among other things, "I stand by my testimony" that Thomas sexually harassed her.

It's not surprising that much of the debate over Thomas in the blogosphere, follows suit.
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I helped with Emerge magazine's coverage of Thomas' 1991 confirmation hearings, and I was fascinated by the narratives that were woven about him, both by his supporters and his detractors. To his supporters Thomas was the black Horatio Alger -- a man whose pluck and character elevated him to a position of power. To his detractors, he was, at best, marginally qualified and, at worst, a a judicial extremist, or a liar.

After attending a dinner for Thomas with conservative bloggers, Lashawn Barber is a definite fan:

"Tonight, I met a man I admire very much. I was invited to join a group of conservative bloggers and columnists (like Kate O’Beirne, Bill Kristol, and James Taranto) for dinner with Justice Clarence Thomas. This humble, personable man said that despite what some black liberal types say about him in the press and on blogs, he’s never had a bad experience with one. They may call him an “Uncle Tom” behind his back, but never to his face."

Elizabeth Nowicki finds Thomas' vitriol toward Anita Hill problematic in a book that is billed as an homage to his grandfather:

My reverence for my two grandfathers is what underpins my … shock at Justice Clarence Thomas’s decision to take cheap shots at Anita Hill in Thomas’s new book titled “My Grandfather’s Son.” Perhaps I am misunderstanding – perhaps Thomas viewed his grandfather as a man of weak character, with a propensity to hurt others and err on the side of needless, small-minded jabs. I have not read Justice Thomas’s book, so I do not know. But somehow I doubt he thought ill of his grandfather.

"And, for that reason, the media quotes I have read that indicate Thomas revisits Anita Hill in his book to refer to her work as mediocre and her character as immature baffle me. Why bother, Clarence Thomas? Why take the opportunity to sling mud? Why revisit Anita Hill personally? The confirmation hearings for Justice Thomas were of historic import, and I certainly understand Thomas’s desire to memorialize the events. What I do not understand, however, is Thomas’s choice to revisit negatively Anita Hill’s character and professional performance, and I think Thomas’s choice in this regard reflects poorly on him and, given the book’s title “My Grandfather’s Son,” his grandfather.

Here's Big Tent Democrat at ,Talk Left chiming in:

Strange that Justice Thomas would repick this fight. Anita Hill has been reawakened.

Egalia has her own take on why Justice Thomas is still so angry:

"No surprise that Thomas is such a bitter and angry man. When you have a lifetime position on the Supreme Court because of affirmative action, but you trash the very concept and do your utmost to make certain no one else gets any, you obviously have some serious problems. I mean if affirmative action is so evil, why doesn't the man just step down?"

Barbara Jones shares interesting memory:

"Nothing much has changed since I went to see Hill speak at Hamline University shortly after the Thomas hearings. Young men lined up along the doorway to offer the (mostly women) attendees cans of Coke, and one seemed genuinely surprised when I called him a name I can't use here. (I too was guilty of an ad hominem attack). I thanked Hill for coming forward, and I stand by that now. Perhaps her allegations shouldn't have taken center stage they way they did, but she had written them in a private letter to the Judiciary Committee, not in a book for which she was paid a $1.5 million advance. But as Hill says in her op-ed piece, reopening the smear campaign against her will not encourage future objects of sexual harassment to vindicate their rights."

Meanwhile, Betsy found Thomas' 60 Minutes interview impressive and wondered whether he might have become more politically had the Left not been so aggressive in its opposition to him.

Rod Dreher is reading Thomas' book, and has become a fan:

"I give thanks that through his grandson, Myers Anderson, an illiterate proletarian and a great American, has a voice on the highest tribunal in the most powerful nation on the face of the earth. Where else could this happen? To read this book is not only to develop a new or deeper admiration for Justice Thomas, but also to come to love our country even more. And you know, as soon as I've finished this book, I'm going to sit my oldest son down and read the first chapter aloud to him. He needs to know about Myers Anderson and Clarence Thomas, and to see them as role models for the making of his own character."

And by the way, yesterday was the first Monday in October, and in the United States that means the Supreme Court is in session. As usual, the Court sorted through the cases it would or would not consider (no to an appealfrom big tobacco companies, yes to a Somali refugee's request for refugee protection, no to two church-state separation cases, yes to two cases challenging sentencing disparities for crack vs. powder cocaine possession.

Photo credit: Supreme Court of the United States

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