In Judging Thomas: The Life and Times of Clarence Thomas, author Ken Foskett argues that “the key to unlocking Justice Thomas’s decision making is not dissecting the opinions but understanding the man who wrote them.” Capturing the essence of Judging Thomas, this quote forms the premise for this book review. A person cannot always be understood by his accomplishments. Instead, we sometimes must look beyond the person himself, and look into that person’s family history. That is precisely what this Thomas biography attempts to do.
This book review, entitled From Pin Point to the Legal Pinnacle, briefly outlines how Thomas catapulted from poverty to the Supreme Court of the United States. It is an amazing and inspiring American story, one that began humbly without even a tint of privilege.
At the age of seven, Thomas’s family life unraveled, forcing him to move in with his grandparents. This life-changing event brought Thomas face to face with a taskmaster of a grandfather, Myers Anderson. Anderson shunned excuses for a person’s lot in life even if confronted with bitter racial division, instead instilling in Thomas fundamental values and principles such as self-reliance, personal responsibility, hard work, and discipline. These values and principles laid the groundwork for Thomas’s success in school and life. The book review recounts Thomas’s struggles during his formative years in the Deep South, culminating in his graduation from Yale Law School.
After Yale, Thomas’s professional career took off like a rocket ship. He accepted a position as an Assistant Attorney General under Missouri Attorney General John Danforth. He then moved to Washington D.C. to serve as then-Senator Danforth’s legislative assistant. President Ronald Reagan soon discovered Thomas’s enormous talents, appointing Thomas to be an assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education. Two years later, President Reagan tapped Thomas to be chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at the young age of thirty-four. During Thomas’s eight years at the EEOC, he transformed the agency from a fledgling bureaucracy to a first-rate government agency. This position also allowed Thomas to crystallize his views on civil rights and other important public policy issues. Thomas’s leadership at the EEOC earned him a fair amount of supporters, and detractors, and it ultimately laid the groundwork for his judicial nominations several years later. udging Thomas tries to reveal how Thomas had spent a lifetime flirting with conservative principles that begin to take shape as solidly conservative during the EEOC period.
In 1989, Thomas was once again elevated in his service to America, this time to replace Judge Robert H. Bork as a federal circuit judge on the prestigious United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Thomas accepted President Reagan’s judicial nomination, and he received nearly unanimous support from the Senate. Less than two years later, the air in D.C. would shift dramatically and turn ugly against Thomas. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated Thomas to the Supreme Court. To say that Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation process would not go as smoothly as his circuit court appointment is a monumental understatement. A battle erupted over Thomas’s nomination, and that confirmation battle is still being discussed today. The book review provides a glimpse into how Judging Thomas details the now-infamous Supreme Court confirmation hearings. In response to vicious attacks on his character and integrity, Thomas made the following famous statement to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee:
And from my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I am concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that, unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate, rather than hung from a tree.
This book review attempts to encapsulate what the book expressly details about Thomas’s pain during these hearings and how that pain affected him and robbed him of his good name.
This book review of Judging Thomas gives readers a glimpse of what they can expect to learn about Clarence Thomas’s life and the experiences that ultimately molded his worldview and legal philosophy. The review ultimately posits that regardless of your opinion of Justice Thomas, it is highly recommended that you read about Clarence Thomas, and Judging Thomas is a good place to start. If you drown out the incessant noise that for some reason surrounds the public discourse about Justice Thomas, and instead focus on the life story of Clarence Thomas, you will find an inspiring tale of hard work, self-reliance, discipline, personal responsibility, and perseverance, even against long odds. You also will witness the life-altering magnificence and boundless opportunity that America offers to its citizens, including a poor child born in a segregated small town who skyrocketed to the legal pinnacle.
Lucas, Tory L., From Pin Point to the Legal Pinnacle (February 1, 2005). Nebraska Lawyer Magazine, February 1, 2005.