Who Is Clarence Thomas?
Clarence Thomas was born in Georgia, eventually went on to attend Yale Law School. He later served in various posts under the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. The retirement of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall led Bush to nominate Thomas as the judge's replacement, and he was narrowly confirmed in 1991 despite being accused of sexual harassment by lawyer Anita Hill in public hearings. Thomas is a staunchly conservative justice who favors small government while opposing more liberal benchmarks like affirmative action and gay marriage.
Background and Early Years
Clarence Thomas was born on June 23, 1948. He grew up in the small African American community of Pin Point, Georgia, with his older sister Emma Mae and younger brother Myers Lee. His father disappeared early on in his life, and the family divided even further when he was nine years old. Struggling financially, his mother sent him and his brother to live with her father and stepmother in nearby Savannah.
Before he became a justice, Thomas had pursued other ambitions. His grandfather encouraged him to pursue a religious life. During high school, Thomas decided to transfer to St. John Vianney Minor Seminary, a first step to becoming a Catholic priest. He graduated in 1967 and then continued his studies at Conception Abbey Seminary in Missouri.
The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 proved to be a turning point for Thomas. He left the seminary after overhearing a fellow student making fun of King's death. Moving north, Thomas went to Holy Cross College, in Massachusetts, where he studied English. He became active in many social causes there, including protesting the Vietnam War and campaigning for civil rights. Thomas also helped establish a black student union. After college, he went to Yale University Law School, where his views started to become more conservative though he also benefited from the school's affirmative action policies.
Thomas returned to the South to work as an assistant to Missouri Attorney General John Danforth after earning his degree. After several years as a lawyer for the agricultural giant Monsanto, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he eventually received several appointments from President Ronald Reagan. His most prominent post was as the chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1982. Another president, George H.W. Bush, gave Thomas his first and only judgeship, nominating him to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Controversial Nomination and Anita Hill
In 1991, President George H.W. Bush tapped Thomas to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the court. The two men could not have been more different. Marshall was widely known as a liberal jurist and for his civil rights work before taking the bench. Critics, on the other hand, attacked Thomas for his rigidly conservative views. Some also thought that he had too little experience as a judge. During his confirmation hearings, Thomas remained quiet on several key issues, including abortion rights.
One of the most infamous moments in Thomas's career, which almost cost him his post, was when one of his former aides at the EEOC, Anita Hill, came forward and testified that he had sexually harassed her during the time the two worked together. She claimed that he had asked her to go out with him, discussed pornography and made inappropriate remarks about her body. Thomas patently denied the allegations, famously referring to the resulting hearings as, "a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves."
While the nation watched Hill's testimony with great interest, the committee decided that there was not enough evidence to prove her claims. Thomas was approved by the Senate by a very small margin, a 52-48 vote. (The proceedings were later depicted in the 2016 HBO film Confirmation, starring Wendell Pierce as Thomas and Kerry Washington as Hill.)
Supreme Court Justice
Since his appointment in 1991, Thomas has often sided with his fellow conservatives on the court, especially Justice Antonin Scalia. He has opposed decisions in favor of affirmative action, such as the 2003 ruling that continued the program at the University of Michigan's law school. While he usually declines interviews, Thomas, based on his opinions and speeches, also clearly supports the idea of a limited federal government. He finally decided to disclose information about his life in his 2007 memoir My Grandfather's Son.
True to his conservative leanings, Thomas dissented in the Supreme Court's landmark decisions in June 2015 to uphold the federal tax subsidies of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) and the constitutional rights of gay couples to get married. However, he did side with the liberal justices that month in a ruling that declared the state of Texas could reject a specialty license plate featuring an image of the Confederate flag.
Thomas is married to Virginia Lamp. The couple adopted his grandnephew Mark in 1997. Thomas also has a son, Jamal (b. 1973), from his first marriage to Kathy Ambush.
When not serving on the court, Thomas enjoys sports. He's reportedly a fan and supporter of the Dallas Cowboys. He is also a car and NASCAR enthusiast.
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