Clarence Thomas' "My Grandfather's Son:" Deja Vu All Over Again?

Friday, October 5, 2007

The first Monday in October means it's back to work for the highest justices of the land, and the U. S. Supreme Court has already accepted 43 cases for the current term. While the justices are deliberating about the right to bear arms, employment discrimination and money laundering proceeds, one of the issues they may not be discussing – at least publicly – is the wisdom of fellow justice Clarence Thomas writing in his memoir about a chapter of his life that figured ignominiously in the history of Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

In the fall of 1991, the country was riveted by the testimony of his former employee at the EEOC, Anita Hill, who made allegations of sexual harassment against him during his confirmation hearing.

"Digging up the Anita Hill affair might not be the wisest act by Thomas, particularly when the professor is able to reply in The New York Times with an op-ed piece," said Francis Graham Lee, Ph.D., professor and chair of the political science department at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelpia.

"The hearings were over fifteen years ago  -- a significant portion of the American population has no idea what happened, and those who were alive then probably have at best a vague recollection. For Thomas, however, those hearings obviously still pain," he said.

The manner in which the issue will play out in the annals of history is of interest. Will Thomas be remembered more for his contentious process to the bench, or for his record as a justice?

"How history will portray Thomas is impossible to predict. Although he regularly votes with Antonin Scalia – the same could have been said of Thurgood Marshall's voting with William Brennan – Thomas more than Marshall has developed his own distinct voice from that of 'Nino,'" said Lee.

"As to his public voice, Thomas is generally silent during oral argument, a fact commented on regularly by those who have little knowledge of the Court," noted Lee. "In actuality, he is about as silent as was William Brennan, who was perhaps the most influential justice of the twentieth century."

Lee is an expert on Court appointments, judicial selection and constitutional law. He is available for comment at 610-660-1753 or

Expand this section