Clarence Thomas has been biting his tongue for 16 years. And now, as the Supreme Court opens with a docket of politically-charged cases – from Guantanamo rights to lethal injection – he has decided to end his Salinger-esque silent streak.
His new book "My Grandfather's Son" comes out tomorrow – though in true 2007 form, the Washington Post found a sloppy bookseller who had it in the window a few days early. (You'd think a Supreme Court justice could get a little more love than Harry Potter, wouldn't you?) In advance of the book, Thomas also sat down for an solid interview with Steve Kroft on last night's "60 Minutes."
But on the off-chance you were looking for clarity or understanding or closure, forget it. The reviews are all over the place – unsurprising for such a polarizing figure.
Let's kick off the reviews with the Los Angeles Times:
In his 15 years on the high court, the 59-year-old justice has long since established his once-doubted legal and intellectual bona fides. Yet with an eye on posterity, he seems to crave validation as having deserved his appointment and, more broadly, as a noble man fighting to do the right thing in an often bigoted, deceitful world. As Thomas puts it in his preface, he is rescuing his own history from the "careless hands" and "malicious hearts" of unnamed others.And the Washington Post takes some serious umbrage at Thomas' literary references:
For a peek into Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's roiling state of mind, go directly to Chapter 9 of his memoir, "My Grandfather's Son," which is officially being released today as the court opens its new term. The chapter's very title, "Invitation to a Lynching," conjures up one of the vilest periods in American history and makes clear that Thomas sees himself as a persecuted black man who was hunted by white enemies.(It's worth pointing out that the Washington Post reviewer has his own biography of Clarence Thomas and his "Divided Soul.")
If there was any remaining mystery about whether Thomas has gotten over the confirmation hearings and sexual harassment allegations that humiliated him 16 years ago, the justice makes plain he hasn't. His words speak to a level of bitterness that he previously has not communicated during his tenure on the court. What is perhaps most revealing, however, especially in the last two chapters of the book, is how Thomas has come to define his racial identity through the prism of literature.
USA Today has the Justice decrying the culture of Washington:
"This city is a little different from the rest of the world. It distorts life. It exaggerates what it wants to exaggerate," he said, explaining that he wanted to counter the "untruths" written about him.The New York Post calls him "Pouting Thomas."
"I didn't cause the divisiveness in '91," Thomas said. "I was just nominated." He decries what he views as political gamesmanship over his reputation, saying, "If you want sport, watch football."
In My Grandfather's Son, he writes that he did not want to leave his story to those with "careless hands or malicious hearts."
The New York Times, in a rather perfunctory review, points out:
He writes that he had grown up fearing the Ku Klux Klan's lynch mobs but "my worst fears had come to pass not in Georgia, but in Washington, D.C., where I was being pursued not by bigots in white robes but by left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony."And the Tribune service's DC bureau observes:
You'll have two chances to see Clarence Thomas in the next few days, likely two more than you've had in a very long time.What comes out of the accounts are fewer surprises than one would like, but a stronger picture of who exactly this man is. It's obvious that he's a man of strong feelings and even stronger aversions. Heck, he owns a motor home and tours America with his wife, to get away from the Washington scene -- sometimes crashing out overnight in Wal-Mart parking lots. But the battles he fought 16 Octobers ago, clearly, are still vivid in his mind.
The notoriously private justice will be on CBS' "60 Minutes" Sunday and then on ABC throughout the day on Monday, culminating in an extended interview on "Nightline." Monday is the first day of the new Supreme Court term.
Thomas, not coincidentally, has a book coming out, which explains why he's now emerging from the shadows. In years past, he has largely confined himself to giving speeches before sympathetic groups and avoiding the mainstream media. And even if you've come to Washington to see Thomas on the bench, it's highly unlikely that you've ever heard him speak. He has become legendary for keeping silent during oral argument.
You have to wonder, though, if he's content in his position. One minute he expresses pride in his accomplishments, but then turns around and indicates an apathy towards it all. According to the Post's Saturday account of the book:
But by the time he was confirmed, he said, the prize meant little. Instead of watching the Senate roll call, he drew himself a bath. His wife came to tell him he had been confirmed 52 to 48.
"Whoop-dee-damn-doo," Thomas writes.