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Clarence Thomas (born June 23, 1948) is an Associate Justice of the Supreme
Court of the United States. An African-American, he is considered by many to
be very conservative.
Clarence Thomas was born in Pin Point, Georgia, a small community outside
Savannah. His father abandoned him when he was only a year old and moved to
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, leaving Thomas to be taken care of by his
mother, Leola Anderson. When Thomas was six, the family's house burned down
(Thomas's younger brother was playing with matches), and they moved to a
small apartment in Savannah. The year after, they went to live with their
mother's father, Myers Anderson. Anderson had a fuel oil business that also
sold ice; Thomas often helped him make deliveries.
His grandfather believed in hard work and self-reliance. In 1975, when
Thomas read Race and Economics by economist Thomas Sowell, he found an
intellectual foundation for this philosophy. The book criticized social
reforms by government and instead argued for individual action to overcome
circumstances and adversity. Thomas later said the book changed his life.
Devoutly Roman Catholic as a child (he now attends Truro Episcopal Church,
in Fairfax, Virginia with his wife), Thomas considered entering the
priesthood, and briefly attended Conception Seminary, a Catholic seminary in
Georgia, where he encountered some racism. Thomas later attended Holy Cross
College, where he co-founded the school's Black Student Union and received
an A.B., cum laude.
Thomas struggled with his political identity as he was growing up. He
flirted with being a radical in college, but was pulled towards libertarian
(he was especially influenced by Ayn Rand) and conservative viewpoints,
although he was put off with the race-baiting used by some conservatives.
He received a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1974. He later said that
affirmative action programs designed to increase the number of black
students at Yale helped him gain admission.
He served as Attorney General of Missouri from 1974-1977, an attorney with
Monsanto from 1977-1979, and Legislative Assistant to Senator John Danforth
In 1981, he began his rise through the Reagan administration. From
1981-1982, he served as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the US
Department of Education, and as Chairman of the US Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission from 1982-1990. Thomas cautiously accepted these
assignments aware of the public thrust for placing minorities in government
He has married twice, most recently to Virginia Lamp in 1987. He has one
child, Jamal Adeen, from his first marriage.
He became a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of
Columbia Circuit in 1990.
In 1991, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall decided to resign.
President George H. W. Bush nominated Thomas as an Associate Justice to
replace him, hoping both to maintain a black justice and to move the court
in a more conservative direction.
Liberal organizations including the NAACP, the Urban League, and the
National Organization for Women opposed his appointment to the Supreme Court
for his criticism of Affirmative Action and supposed anti-abortion position.
In response to the anti-abortion assertion, Thomas reiterated that he had
not developed a stance on the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized
abortion. Others felt he was unqualified, having served only two years as a
federal judge. He was the first nominee since Harrold Carswell not to
receive an "outstanding" rating from the American Bar Association.
The Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Thomas about
his political opinions and constitutional interpretation over a span of a
few days. As a last minute testimony, a former colleague and Democrat,
Oklahoma University Law School Professor Anita Hill, accused Thomas of
sexually harassing her when the two worked together ten years prior at the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Audiences nationwide watched the
confirmation on television. When questioned about the allegations, Thomas
famously called the hearings "a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks." In
the end, the Committee did not find sufficient evidence to corroborate Anita
Hill's claim and Thomas was confirmed by the Senate with a 52-48 vote on
October 15, 1991. He took his seat on October 23, 1991.
Decisions (Race politics)
In Hudson v. McMillan (1992), Thomas dissented, arguing that the beating of
a Louisiana inmate by three prison guards was not cruel and unusual
punishment. Thomas said that the beating, which left Hudson with loosened
teeth, facial bruises, and a cracked dental plate, did not cause sufficient
harm to meet the constitutional standard. "In my view, a use of force that
causes only insignificant harm to a prisoner may be immoral, it may be
tortious, it may be criminal ... but it is not 'cruel and unusual
punishment,'" he wrote.
In Missouri v. Jenkins (1995), the majority overturned a lower court ruling
that the city of Kansas City, MIssouri had to spend more money on their
predominantly black school system to attract white suburban kids. Thomas
filed a separate concurrence where he attacked Brown v. Board of Education,
the 1954 case that outlawed state segregation. "'Racial isolation' itself is
not a harm; only state-enforced segregation is," he wrote. "After all, if
separation itself is a harm, and if integration therefore is the only way
that blacks can receive a proper education, then there must be something
inferior about blacks." Many liberal groups, who argued that racial
isolation had damaging psychological effects, were upset by the decision.
In Adarand Constructors v. Pena (1995), Thomas spoke out against affirmative
action. "There can be no doubt that racial paternalism and its unintended
consequences can be as poisonous and pernicious as any other form of
discrimination." he wrote.
In United States v. Fordice (1992), he agreed that Mississippi had not done
enough to desegregate its colleges and universities. But he added that
increased integration could hurt historically black colleges. "It would be
ironic, to say the least, if the institutions that sustained blacks during
segregation were themselves destroyed in an effort to combat its vestiges,"
In Chicago v. Morales (1999), he dissented, arguing that police needed more
power to curb gangs in crime-ridden neighborhoods. "Gangs fill the lives of
many of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens with terror that the Court
does not give sufficient consideration, often relegating them to the status
of prisoners in their own homes," he wrote.
In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002), he upheld an Ohio school voucher plan.
"While the romanticized ideal of universal public education resonates with
the cognoscenti who oppose vouchers, poor urban families just want the best
education for their children, who will certainly need it to function in our
high-tech and advanced society," he wrote. "As Thomas Sowell noted 30 years
ago: Most black people have faced too many grim, concrete problems to be
Thomas often concurs with Justice Antonin Scalia. He is considered to be
generally deferential to original understanding of the Constitution, but
sometimes more eager to adopt new principles.
In McIntyre v. Ohio Board of Elections (1995), the only case where Thomas
and Scalia directly criticized each other, Thomas concurred that a law
banning anonymous campaign literature violated the First Amendment. But
while the Court argued this was because anonymity has "played an important
role in the progress of mankind", Thomas filed a concurrence arguing that
protection of anonymous speech was part of the original understanding of the
amendment, noting that several of the Framers had published The Federalist
Papers anonymously. Scalia disagreed, arguing that the evidence was
insufficient to conclude there was an original understanding and noting the
wide popular support for laws against it.
Thomas has used similar reasoning on the equal protection clause; this
provides a basis for understanding his support for the Brown v. Board of
Education decision, which declared State-enforced segregation
In general, Thomas has been a proponent of an expansive First Amendment,
arguing that anonymous speech, money donated to political campaigns, and
commercial speech attempting to sell products all qualified for protection.
He has also taken the libertarian point of view that the Commerce Clause
should be narrowly interpreted, covering only actual interstate commerce,
not things related to it.
Thomas has also defended firm interpretations of the Second Amendment,
holding in United States v. Printz that the Brady Act's background checks
possibly violated it.