October 1, 2007

An Evening With Justice Thomas

Earlier this evening, I attended a two-hour dinner event at the Heritage Foundation with Justice Clarence Thomas, his wife Virginia, and a small number of other bloggers and New Media members. It confirmed for me that the media has never gotten a grasp of the man under the robes, possibly because they have not spent even the small amount of time with him that we did tonight and that Steve Kroft did with his 60 Minutes interview -- and they have missed a real story from that failure. And while the nominal reason for the evening was his book launch -- and we each received autographed copies -- it turned into a wide-ranging conversation that had little to do with the book.

The evening started with Justice Thomas greeting us, taking pictures and chatting us up a bit. He asked me what I wrote about at Captain's Quarters, and I replied, "Just about anything -- politics, culture, foreign policy, and Notre Dame football," at which he let loose his unique gust of laughter. "Notre Dame football?" he asked incredulously. "You'd better stick with foreign policy this year!" (Obviously, his wisdom came through immediately.) The twenty or so people who attended the dinner all had a similar experience; Justice Thomas made a great effort to put us at ease, which he did all night long.

He told us that he had deliberately wanted to spend the first day of his book launch with New Media journalists, noting specifically that he felt good about avoiding the Supreme Court press on the occasion. Thomas explained that he wished we'd been around in 1991, that we could have made sure that the facts of the case came to light. We could have worked around the mainstream media narrative, he told us, and stated several times that he was very impressed with the work we did.

The book represents his effort to reach people through his life story, Thomas explained. He has now reached a point in his life where he wants to let go of some tasks, such as travel and outreach efforts which have taken up most of his spare time from the Court. He has tired of the grind and wants to spend more time with his family. He loves his work on the Court, however, and sees himself remaining on the court for the rest of his life. In fact, Bill Kristol teased him about running for President, and I believe his exact words were, "Oh, hell no."

Thomas had that kind of blunt speaking style, but without any rancor or bitterness. He came across as a man who had nothing left to prove and no criticisms to answer. In fact, Thomas mentioned that he has never had any unpleasantness in his personal appearances. A couple of times at universities, faculty members have walked out on him -- "it's always the faculty and never the students," he emphasized -- and said, "Whoop-de-doo! Cowards run. It's what they do."

He got perhaps his biggest laugh when answering one of my questions. I had asked him if he agreed that some justices have "grown" on the bench, without being specific, although Kristol encouraged him to get very specific. Thomas demurred on the specificity, but took some time to give a thoughtful answer. He agreed that the phenomenon exists, and that he sees it as a pressure of incentives and disincentives. Some justices worried about how law schools and other elites will perceive them, and begin to develop opinions with an eye to prestigious invitations and awards -- and the punishing lack of same if they do not evolve towards the accepted wisdom of academics. "I wouldn't get an invitation from Columbia University unless I was a Middle East dictator with nuclear weapons," he gave as an example, again with his trademark booming laugh.

My lasting impression of Clarence Thomas is this: he is his own man, and he is beholden to no one. With that, he has the confidence and self-satisfaction that allows him to be engaging, gracious, honest, and open. That the media and a good part of the nation could have missed this amazing and impressive man should anger and sadden the American populace. I will not ever forget the dichotomy between the public image of Clarence Thomas and the real human being I met tonight.

UPDATE: Other bloggers have started posting about the meeting. Kate O'Beirne has a post up at The Corner, and my friend Paul Mirengoff has his remarks at Power Line. Be sure to read these -- we have all keyed on different aspects of the evening.


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» Dinner with Justice Clarence Thomas from Outside The Beltway | OTB
The Heritage Foundation held a dinner last night honoring Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas on the publication of his memoir, My Grandfather’s Son. The small gathering included Virginia Lamp Thomas, the Justice’s wife, and a g... [Read More]

» Clarence Thomas Dines with New Media from QT Monster's Place
Some of my favorite bloggers and conservative journalists got to attend a dinner hosted by Clarence Thomas and his wife. Ed Morrissey and Paul Mirengoff were there as was Bill Kristol. This event was to honor the publication of Justice Thomas' new book... [Read More]

» Clarence Thomas from bustardblog
He seemed to be more of a fun guy to have a beer with, so we got George Bush as President. Clarence Thomas has a sense of humor and can charm some conservatives. So he is to be worshiped. Or [Read More]

Comments (29)

Posted by kw64 | October 1, 2007 8:07 PM

How people can look at how Bork was treated and how Thomas was treated bfore during and after their confirmation process and still believe the "Politics of Personal Destruction" was somehow only from the vast right wing conspiracy is beyond me.

I will never forget how even Joe Biden the committee chair got disgusted with Howard Metzenbaum during the hearing. It was one Biden's few good moments.

Posted by mrlynn | October 1, 2007 8:31 PM

Did anyone ask him why he is so reluctant to question witnesses before the bench at Supreme Court cases?

This 'silence' is commonly used to disparage Justice Thomas, but I have never heard him discuss it, or challenge the implication that it means he is intellectually deficient—which I don't believe for a minute.

My guess is that he doesn't like even the semblance of grandstanding, but I do wonder if he errs too much in avoiding that impression.

/Mr Lynn

Posted by Justice Thomas Appreciation Page | October 1, 2007 8:53 PM

Great story about a man whose charm is too often hidden from the public. Check out the new Justice Thomas Appreciation blog.

Posted by mike | October 1, 2007 8:57 PM

Washington is full of stuffed shirts (and blouses) that stretch the limits of hypocrisy. Justice Thomas is the real deal, in a city where being intelligent and honest is seen as suspicious behavior. The left, and sadly the right too, want SC Justices that will follow the party line, for whatever party places them on the court. They just don’t understand an honest man, and it scares them something awful.

Posted by Hugh Beaumont | October 1, 2007 8:58 PM

After 40 years in the political wilderness, conservatives finally saw the tide moving their way.
The result was a classless, brutal assault by the feminists and their ilk upon the characters of Supreme Court nominees Bork and Thomas.

The conservatives raised the stakes in the 94 elections and the impeachment of Billy Jeff.

The left threw down the gauntlet when they lost grip on power. Politics has never been the same.

Posted by Carol Herman | October 1, 2007 9:01 PM

He stood his ground. And, he was confirmed.

He also represents a minority view, in that he's Catholic. And, most people aren't adherents. Does religion get left at the door? Not in Thomas Clarence's case.

And, the viewpoints he shares with conservatives have put a quality man up on the bench.

He's also prodded along the idea that affirmative action is bad for Blacks. (I could have told you that!) It's as obvious as the nose on your face.

But, instead, the left has it's "flowing sanctimony." Which thanks to Clarence Thomas' brains, and his ability with words; is going to become a classic.

I've been pointing out for a while, now that the left has no leadership worth spit.

That's why a stinker like Dan Rather wasn't let go ON THE SPOT!

On the left? It seems other than wanting promenant positions; WHEN YOU DON'T HAVE THE TALENT; the audience WALKS.

I remember a woman rich enough to rent Carnegie Hall. Unfortuntely, she was way out of tune. So people came and LAUGHED.

For some reason, or another, the left's no longer laughing. No longer producing comics. They're as enraged as you can get!

This will affect who gets selected to run in 2008.

I think it would be a mistake, if the Bonkeys can get Kerry to run, that the pubbies will go after him with the Shoe-hsu-stinks. BIG. FAT. AND. DUMB. IDEAS. Trickle over to the GOP, as well. Alas.

Much better to engage people in debate.

And, what's most delicious about Clarence Thomas, now, is that the left's been painting him as a "silent," "idiot." Who just copies Scalia's homework.

They even said "he doesn't like to talk during Orals, because he has a speech defect.

Nothing's stuck.

In the end, when you're a Supreme Court justice, your own words speak for you. And, sometimes? You words and works still speak, after you are dead.

That Clarence Thomas is head and shoulders above Thurgood Marshall? Wow. For starters, when Thomas goes up on the bench, he's not filling a "race" chair at all. And, once that's gone, what's ahead, will be a need, still, to attract "ordinary" and "poor" Americans to step forward.

The elites? Spoiled brats.

And, very capable of running their inheritances into the ground.

(I still wish his grandpa had been kinder. It pays, when raising children, to give a little. And, not get STUCK.

So, if I were to give advice to Clarence Thomas? I'd tell him there's no need to extend federal powers for more police; who will go after women. And, their doctors.

Soon enough we should put this stupid idea (that your religion can be shoved down someone else's throat.) To rest.

Be kind. Use understanding. And, forget "dogma."

Ain't becoming to any side.

Posted by SteveMG | October 1, 2007 9:39 PM

Thanks for that report.

Did Justice Thomas talk about - or was the issue raised - about the brouhaha a few years ago over the "threat" to judicial independence that Justice O'Connor was, reportedly, particularly upset about.

Many of the liberal court watchers in the media - Andrew Cohen of CBS in particular - raised a stink about the issue. Seemed to be little more than the usual grousing by folks over decisions they didn't like. Sound and fury et cetera.



Posted by L88SS454 | October 1, 2007 10:03 PM

I heard Justice Thomas on Rush today. He impressed me as a man of great thought,careful to speak his mind in as few words as possible. No words were wasted,nor did they seem to be spoken for soundbite purposes. He seemed to shoot straight from the heart with the ease of someone who is confident in his ideas and settled in the rightness of his path.

He's over qualified to be a politician. I mean WAY over qualified to be a politician.

Posted by L88SS454 | October 1, 2007 10:13 PM

No,I take my previous comment back about Justice Thomas being over qualified to be a politician. It's not that Justice Thomas is over qualified to be a politician,it's that our politicians are under qualified to be in the office that they hold. We have lowered our standards down to the point that a man like Justice Thomas stands out as an exception to the character that we expect our leaders to exibit,instead of INSISTING on his type of character being the rule for election to office in the first place. Shame on us for not seeking out more men with the character of Justice Thomas to lead our nation.

Posted by Justice Thomas Appreciation Page | October 1, 2007 11:16 PM

Thanks for the great story. Anyone who admires Justice Thomas will like the (unofficial) Justice Thomas Appreciation Page: http://justicethomas.blogspot.com

Posted by Dale Michaud aka TexasDude | October 1, 2007 11:33 PM

Woman and their doctors ...

That's rich.

Of course, another life is being ignored ... the unborn baby.

It is telling how some purposely ignore that fact of basic human biology!

You want to derail this thread?

Go ahead ... continue the lies of the topic you breached and the thread will turn quick.

And. It is sad in the 21st century, ancient, disproved, THEORIES of when life begins is accepted as fact when modern science is yelling something very, very different.

(Yeah, I copied the style of this reply on purpose)

Posted by atmom | October 1, 2007 11:38 PM

First time I have been absolutely riveted to a 60 minutes interview. How fortunate we are to have Justice Thomas on the SCOTUS. AMEN!!

Posted by Dawn | October 1, 2007 11:43 PM


Posted by Cornellian | October 1, 2007 11:45 PM

Wish I could have been there to meet him. He seems like a very interesting person.

Posted by Ron C | October 1, 2007 11:55 PM

"Shame on us for not seeking out more men with the character of Justice Thomas to lead our nation." - L88SS454

After reading the last line of your first post, I was well pleased you found the truth America turned its back on – to its shame.

It’s informative to know a bit of historical perspective on how this nation once chose it's leaders – a bit of truth that always enrages (and scares the hell out of) leftists and even some who call themselves conservative.

First, early Americans simply would not vote for someone that actively sought public office. They called it ‘getting on the stump’ – and deemed the aspirant to be ‘covetous’ and simply avoided any thought of voting for such a candidate. Second, they pointed to the five qualifications for public office written in Exodus 18:21; able (knowledgeable) men, God fearing, known to be truthful, and not covetous (desirous of great wealth or power.)

The fifth overarching qualification was that they were to be chosen But, by whom? The consensus was, by the religious and civic leaders of the community – and in early America, that included the residents of, and the political party leadership those residents trusted with the task of finding such people. They would find and ask such people to ‘serve’ – and if they did agree to serve, they were not allowed to ‘campaign’ for themselves. That was the job of the civic leaders who believed the candidate to be best qualified.

That form of providing candidates of 'the best character' survived in one form or another until well into the early 1900's - when it was destroyed by socialists.

There is however, little standing in the way today that would prevent this nation from returning to the practice - except the fear of leftists.

Posted by not a nut? | October 2, 2007 12:36 AM

Jeff Toobin who wrote his own new Supreme Court book, The Nine noted that after a speech that Justice Scalia gave at a synagogue here in New York a couple of years ago, and someone asked him, `What’s the difference between your judicial philosophy and Justice Thomas?’ I thought a very good question. And Scalia talked for a while and he said, `Look, I’m a conservative. I’m a texturalist. I’m an originalist. But I’m not a nut.’

Posted by flenser | October 2, 2007 12:43 AM

And if Jeff Toobin says it, you know it must be true.

Posted by not a nut? | October 2, 2007 3:29 AM

Mr Toobin's reportage has not been disputed by Justice Scalia.

IF Toobin's reportage of Justice Scalia is false then most certainly Justice Scalia will issue a protest denying Toobin's report and perhaps sue Toobin for fabricating such a falsehood and then maliciously attributing it to Justice Scalia.

Let us see just how long we have to wait for said lawsuit to be filed, or at the very least for some form of denial from Justice Scalia as to Toobin's reportage.

Lacking said rebuttal, Mr Toobin's reportage stands as factual.

Posted by davod | October 2, 2007 4:05 AM

`Look, I’m a conservative. I’m a texturalist. I’m an originalist. But I’m not a nut.’

What does this mean? I believe in what the Constitution says but I only take the Constitution so far!

Scalia sounds lika an activist judge.

The SCOTUS's job is to interprete appeals based upon what the Constitution says. There are remedies available if the SCOTUS decision based upon the Constitution does not meet the norms of society. They are called amendments to the Constitution.

Posted by bayam | October 2, 2007 5:10 AM

While decrying the experience of poor Thomas at the hands of Democrats, no one wants to mention the 'H' word. To this day, Anita Hill remains the real victim for standing up and telling her story. This woman wasn't a trashy loser from the bottom of society with a lawsuit or other financial agenda to pursue. There was nothing unseemly about her story or testimony, yet as is often the case when a woman claims sexual harrassment, the blame was turned back on her.

Clinton's election win in 2000 is usually attributed to the Republican's callous treatment of Hill, as women voted overwhelmingly Democrat in that year.

Posted by burt | October 2, 2007 5:24 AM

Supreme Conflict, the recent book by Jan Crawford Greenberg which is substantially based upon the extensive diary of Justice Brennan throws a lot of light on Justice Thomas and the recent court. Among the things that one might learn from the book is that Thomas was quite talkative and thought provoking in discussions with other Justices. He apparently thinks saying very much publicly is a waste of time and is primarily used for grand standing. A surprising thing, given what the MSM gives us, is that Thomas converted the more senior Justice Scalia as well as other Justices to his view more often than visa versa.

A while back the Woodrow Wilson Institute (I am not sure whether the last word is Institute or something else) issued a paper with the thesis the American public specifically chooses Presidents with pedestrian IQs rather than brainier people to whom the public doesn't relate well. To illustrate the thesis, they used the example of Nixon and Kennedy. The public supported Kennedy who had a pedestrian IQ of 119 and rejected Nixon who had a low genius IQ of 144.

Posted by crossdotcurve | October 2, 2007 5:55 AM

Did you ask him how if there was any cognitive dissonance in being a pervert and a liar, sitting on the highest court?


Posted by qrstuv | October 2, 2007 6:33 AM

So you mean if I got myself one of these here blog-thingies, I could meet people like Clarence Thomas?!

Well, damn!

Posted by Dan S | October 2, 2007 8:00 AM

"Clinton's election win in 2000 is usually attributed to the Republican's callous treatment of Hill, as women voted overwhelmingly Democrat in that year."

Wow, talk about rewriting history...

Posted by LuckyBogey | October 2, 2007 8:12 AM

I also listened to the Rush interview and caught a few minutes late last night on ABC. The funniest part of the ABC interview was when he stated that Joe Biden lied to him and that Biden reminded him of the song: "Smiling Faces" while at the same time ABC played the song showing Biden smiling like a jackass. Priceless!

Posted by not a nut? | October 2, 2007 1:33 PM

davod wrote: `Look, I’m a conservative. I’m a texturalist. I’m an originalist. But I’m not a nut.’

What does this mean? I believe in what the Constitution says but I only take the Constitution so far!

Scalia sounds lika an activist judge.
The original meaning theory, which is closely related to textualism, is the view that interpretation of a written constitution or law should be based on what reasonable persons living at the time of its adoption would have declared the ordinary meaning of the text to be. It is with this view that most adherents, such as Justices Scalia and Thomas, are associated.

davod, what in Scalia's remarks, as reported by Toobin, make him sound like an activist judge to you?

Posted by PackerBronco | October 2, 2007 5:35 PM

Jeff Toobin who wrote his own new Supreme Court book, The Nine noted that after a speech that Justice Scalia gave at a synagogue here in New York a couple of years ago, and someone asked him, `What’s the difference between your judicial philosophy and Justice Thomas?’ I thought a very good question. And Scalia talked for a while and he said, `Look, I’m a conservative. I’m a texturalist. I’m an originalist. But I’m not a nut.’

I wasn't there and you weren't there, so all we can do is speculate. However I bolded an important part of that quote. If we grant that Scalia talked for awhile, we can no longer grant that the conclusion of his statement is intimately related to the opening. For example, he could have said:

"Thomas is a bit more of an originalist than I am. Of course there are others who are so strict that they would declare the federal income tax unconstitutional. Would I go that far? Look, I’m a conservative. I’m a texturalist. I’m an originalist. But I’m not a nut."

So Toobin could have been entirely accurate and entirely misleading about what was said. Based on their opinions in the hundreds of cases they've ruled, I see no trace of animosity between Scalia and Thomas and one would need better evidence than what you proffered to believe otherwise.

Posted by not a nut? | October 2, 2007 8:32 PM

PackerBronco wrote: "So Toobin could have been entirely accurate and entirely misleading about what was said."

Justice Scalia has been strangely silent on this matter even though contributors, such as yourself and davod, to CQ have not.

Absent any protest what-so-ever from Justice Scalia as to your supposition, that would have Toobin being entirely accurate and entirely misleading, Mr Toobin's reportage of the quote attributed to Justice Scalia still stands as both accurate and factual.

Posted by PackerBronco | October 2, 2007 10:09 PM

Absent any protest what-so-ever from Justice Scalia ... Mr Toobin's reportage of the quote attributed to Justice Scalia still stands as both accurate and factual.

I wouldn't be so quick to jump on that rationale. It's bitten people in the past. Absence of denial is NOT the same thing as confirmation. Defenders of the RatherGate memos were saying: "Well, we told the Whitehouse about the memos and they didn't protest, so it must be correct." A similar thing happened with the Newsweek story of Korans being flushed down the toilet. One of their "sources" was an individual who did not deny the truth of their story. It was only after Newsweek was embarrassed that they discovered their "source" didn't deny it because he didn't know the truth one way or the other.

A better approach would be to use common sense. Has anything in Scalia's opinions or demenor indicated that he thinks Thomas is a nut? I can't think of one thing and Scalia is not shy to disparage sloppy or crazy thinking when it comes to opinions from people like O'Connor, Kennedy, or Stevens.

Of course if that makes too much sense to you, you're welcome to continue to believe what you apparently WANT to believe and in your spare time you can try to flush Korans downn toilets based on that non-denial "confirmation".

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