The long crusade of Clarence and Ginni Thomas


Thomas revered his grandfather, Myers Anderson, who was as influential in his life as his wife’s mother was in his, and titled his memoir “My Grandfather’s Son”. But the relationship was often rocky. Anderson, who donated to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, “was not happy with his grandson’s choices,” wrote Kevin Merida, now editor of the Los Angeles Times, and Michael A. Fletcher in a 2007 biography, “Supreme Discomfort.” The authors cited Ketanji Brown Jackson, a black former clerk to Justice Stephen Breyer who Biden is now considering for the vacancy created by Breyer’s retirement. She remembered sitting across from Thomas at lunch and thinking, “’I don’t understand you. You sound like my parents. You sound like people I grew up with. But the lessons he tended to learn from the experiences of the segregated South seemed to be different from those of anyone I know.

Clarence and Ginni met in 1986 at an affirmative action conference, which they both opposed. After a stint in the Civil Rights Office of the Department of Education, he led the EEOC; she was an attorney at the United States Chamber of Commerce and mused that year on Good Housekeeping about possibly running for Congress one day. She had checked out of a New Age self-help group called Lifespring, which she would denounce as a cult, but still attended meetings organized by a cult deprogramming organization, and she took him to one. of them. He would describe her as a “gift from God” and they married in 1987 at a Methodist church in Omaha; it was his first marriage, his second. “There’s no other way to put it politely, but the fact that she married a black man must have caused an uproar in that family, I can’t even imagine,” said Scott Bange, who dated Ginni in high school. In 1991, one of Ginni Thomas’ aunts told the Washington Post that the future justice “was so nice, we forgot he was black”, adding: “He treated her so well, all his other qualities made up for the fact that he was black.”

Thomas had custody of a teenage son, Jamal, from his previous marriage to Kathy Ambush, his college sweetheart. For several years, the couple also raised their great-nephew, Mark Martin. Jamal Thomas, who did not respond to requests for comment, spoke warmly, albeit rarely, of his father on Facebook, writing in a 2015 Father’s Day post: “Dad showed me that you can appreciate all kinds of music. His collection of albums is legendary. Country, R&B, Classical, Blues, Gospel, Jazz, and yes, even Culture Club. But I kind of liken that to his ability to build relationships and connect with anyone.

Together, the Thomases considered themselves happy warriors. While remote in some ways from his own upbringing, he embraced his world and even became an ardent Nebraska Cornhuskers fan. “They have this good humor, this Nebraska thing,” said a longtime friend of the couple. “Ginni can be annoying and obnoxious with happy conversations, but when you’re with her one-on-one she can be very nice. And with Clarence too, there’s a kindness too; it’s not just the manipulative happy talk. But there’s an underlying pain, and they’re turning it on other people.

Clarence Thomas has always maintained that he had to be persuaded to accept an appointment to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit when he was appointed as a federal judge in 1989. “I was minding my own business,” he said. he said, telling the story in his address at the Heritage Celebration. He was defended by Danforth, then a senator, who told the Senate, “I hope people don’t attack Clarence Thomas because of some stereotype of what they think a black lawyer should believe.”

Thurgood Marshall announced his retirement from the Supreme Court in 1991, and President George HW Bush turned to Thomas. His confirmation hearings, chaired by Joe Biden, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, began with an attempt to determine his views on Roe v. Wade. Then, after an FBI report leaked, Anita Hill, a law professor who worked under Thomas at the Department of Education and the EEOC, testified that he had made numerous unwelcome advances, persisted in conversations at his workplace about his “sexual prowess,” described graphic pornography. and said he found a pubic hair on a can of cola and asked who put it there. Future Justice flatly dismissed the allegations, calling the public inquiry “a high-tech lynching for arrogant black people who in any way deign to think for themselves, do for themselves, have different ideas.”

When asked during the hearing if he wanted to step down, he replied, “I would rather die.” He didn’t watch Hill’s testimony. “I was the one who tried to watch what was going on for as long as I could,” Ginni Thomas said in a 2020 documentary about Justice Thomas’ life and legal philosophy, “Created Equal,” made with the participation of the Thomas and funded by the far-right Charles Koch and Bradley Foundations. “Everything was so wrong,” she continued. “It was so wrong.” When Biden told Thomas in a phone call that he would be voting against him, he tried to reassure him about the process. As she listened, Ginni Thomas took a spoon from a kitchen drawer and pretended to gag, her husband later said. (Biden was also criticized for excluding testimony favorable to Hill and, much later, expressed regret.) Friends and associates said the couple’s rage over the confirmation battle came to both define them and unify them.


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