At about this time every year since the bloody 1991 Supreme
Court confirmation, a chorus of savage personal attacks rings out
in the mainstream media against the character and intellect of
Justice Clarence Thomas.
Most noteworthy and disturbing about these assaults is that
they almost never critique Thomas the Supreme Court justice - the
exponent of limited judicial power and an original-intent approach
to constitutional interpretation. The latest ballyhoo surrounds a
book, "Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas," written by
two Wall Street Journal reporters.
As his law clerks at the Supreme Court, we have spent hundreds
of hours with Thomas in a high-pressure working environment and in
informal social settings. For us and other clerks, watching the
maligning of him as a person has been both heart-wrenching and
Although we, too, are constrained by the court practice of
keeping confidential in-chambers discussions about particular
cases, we can address the most common criticisms of him: wlb
He is disengaged from his work at the court. So wrote David G.
Savage last month in the Los Angeles Times Magazine.
We suggest you read his opinions. In his three terms at the
court, Thomas has written as many majority opinions as the other
sitting justices and indeed produced last term's single longest
opinion. Even a cursory analysis leads to the conclusion that
Thomas has forthrightly set out his own distinct jurisprudence in
areas as diverse as the Voting Rights Act, the Eighth Amendment and
It is true that the justice seldom speaks at oral argument, but
what meaningful conclusion can be drawn from that? To be reserved
is not to be passive; the "disengaged" charge was not leveled
against other taciturn justices of recent memory. U This criticism
is essentially innuendo. There is an answer to this: Read his
He is angry, bitter and brooding. That was Jeffrey Toobin's
thesis in a New Yorker article, "The Burden of Clarence Thomas," in
September 1993. What does a Supreme Court justice do to show he is
not angry? Should he go on the Letterman show? Should he smile and
wave at the press during oral arguments?
When Thomas works out in the court gym every morning or chats
with tourists or visits with court staff members outside chambers,
it is not reported that these are the activities of someone who is
energetic, outgoing and high-spirited. But then again, why should
it be? After all, it is no more relevant to his work on the court
than are the self-perpetuating accusations leveled by his