The Verdict on Justice Thomas

Article excerpt

Crisis Forum

books

CLARENCE THOMAS: A Biography

By Andrew Peyton Thomas (Encounter Books, $29.95)

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once described the then-Soviet Union as an "enigma wrapped in a mystery."

For man Americans that description could also apply to Justice Clarence Thomas, the second African American on the U.S. Supreme Court.

His 1991 Senate confirmation hearing, which captured the nation's attention with its sexual and political subplots, so traumatized Thomas that to this day he remains deeply bitter and jaded by the experience. He has steadfastly refused to grant interviews captured the mainstream press and has remained relentlessly hostile to the very civil rights community that made his appointment possible.

Now, in what is perhaps the most complete biography on Thomas to date, author Andrew Peyton Thomas (no relation) offers a comprehensive look at the life of the man who 10 years after serving on the bench of the the highest court in the land still remains so much of a riddle to friend and foe alike.

Andrew Thomas did yeoman work in researching and investigating his subject, who declined to be interviewed for the book. The author methodically charts the rise of a poor Black child born to uneducated and disinterested parents in rural Pin Point, Ga., in 1948. The book offers rich detail on how the young Thomas lived and survived during one of the most racist periods in American history and managed to rise to the pinnacles of success.

Many African Americans may find amusing, if not peculiar, the author's attempt very early on to portray his subject as a singularly heroic figure by mere virtue of the fact he is a direct descendent of slaves. The author spends the first 30 pages of the book writing about this satanic legacy of the South and imagining what the slaves of the Thomas Plantation in Laurens County, Ga., had to endure. If it was meant to establish a sympathetic foundation for Thomas, it was entirely unpersuasive.

Most African Americans are descendants of slaves and hardly any share Thomas' gruesome view of civil rights. In fact, when Andrew Peyton Thomas' well-documented account of the brutal and dehumanizing effect of the institution, of slavery is contrasted with Clarence Thomas' eventual devolution into what the author later refers to as a "Confederate jurist," the justice's behavior seems downright psychotic.

It should be noted that the author was referring to former Judge Robert Bork of the D.C. Court of Appeals as the Confederate jurist, but Thomas enthusiastically comes to accept and emulate his jurisprudence. And Justice Thomas does possess a curious fondness for the Confederate flag.

The author painstakingly points out how Thomas' emergence from a grim childhood was made possible by assistance from others every step of the way. His strong and disciplined grandparents, Meyers and Christine Anderson, and a great-aunt, Maggie Devoe, instilled in him a strong work ethic and devotion to scholarship.

Later, as a teen and adult, it was the victories of the civil rights movement and affirmative action policies - which he would so angrily renounce and oppose as a Supreme Court justice -- that helped pave the way for his success.

In fact, although the author is clearly another white conservative supporter of Thomas (he received funding from right-- wing foundations to write the book), he candidly points out the hypocrisy of Thomas' attitude toward affirmative action. …