CLARENCE THOMAS'S Supreme Court seat is his to lose.
That's the view of court-watchers, including some of the judge's
liberal opponents, as President Bush's nominee begins confirmation
hearings today before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
With lingering memories of Judge Robert Bork's failure to gain
confirmation four years ago, the Bush White House has left nothing
to chance in the couple of months since the nomination.
"We're in good shape," says a White House official who has helped
Judge Thomas prepare. "Of course, since Bork, no one's quite sure
what the rules of the game are. But I'd say the mood at the White
House is upbeat."
If Thomas is "aggressively uncooperative in answering questions
on flash-point issues like abortion, it could backfire," says a
senior Democratic aide on Capitol Hill. "A lot depends on how
senators are defining 'advice and consent.
Thomas's solid endorsement from Sen. John Danforth (R) of
Missouri - a moderate Republican, longtime friend and one-time
employer of Thomas, and point man on the civil rights bill - has
helped smooth the image of this self-described conservative.
Some aspects of Thomas have made the pre-hearings period dicier
than Supreme Court Justice David Souter's was last summer. Thomas
has a livelier personal history and has published and spoken more in
public than had Souter.
But the fact that Thomas is black has helped him. Opposition to
his nomination has been slow to coalesce; one reason, say liberal
activists, is that some people are reluctant to be seen opposing a
black's rise to the high court.
Thomas also benefits from his frequent appearances before
Congress, both in his confirmations to become head of the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission and a Washington, D.C., Circuit
Court judge, as well as his 50-plus appearances testifying as EEOC
As part of his preparation for the next two weeks, the White
House has staged mock confirmation hearings for Thomas, drilling him
on some of the more controversial matters senators will raise, such
as natural law.
And with Senator Danforth's help, Thomas has made courtesy calls
on most senators.
Now that the hearings are starting, Thomas will be on his own.
Sen. Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, has said he will press Thomas on natural law, the legal
philosophy that individuals have certain rights dictated by a higher
order. Natural law has been interpreted in many ways, and Senator
Biden says he wants to pin down Thomas's views on it.
A crucial related matter is abortion, an issue that the court
will face in its fall session. …