Clarence Thomas (born June 23, 1948) is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He is one of the most conservative justices in the current court, often aligning with Antonin Scalia. He is the second African-American to serve on the nation's highest court.

Personal history

Clarence Thomas was born in Pin Point, Georgia, a small community outside Savannah. His father abandoned him when he was only a year old and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, leaving Thomas to be taken care of by his mother, Leola Anderson. When Thomas was six, his younger brother accidentally set a fire that burned the family's house down, so they moved to a small apartment in Savannah. The year after, they went to live with their mother's father, Myers Anderson. Anderson had a fuel oil business that also sold ice; Thomas often helped him make deliveries.

His grandfather believed in hard work and self-reliance. In 1975, when Thomas read Race and Economics by economist Thomas Sowell, he found an intellectual foundation for this philosophy. The book criticized social reforms by government and instead argued for individual action to overcome circumstances and adversity. Thomas later said the book changed his life.

Devoutly Roman Catholic as a child (he now attends Truro Episcopal Church, in Fairfax, Virginia with his wife), Thomas considered entering the priesthood, and briefly attended Conception Seminary, a Catholic seminary in Georgia, where he encountered some racism. Thomas later attended Holy Cross College, where he co-founded the school's Black Student Union and received an A.B., cum laude.

Thomas explored his political identity as he was growing up. He flirted with being a radical in college, but he was subsequently influenced by the libertarian writings of Ayn Rand and gravitated towards conservative viewpoints, although he was put off by the race baiting practiced by some conservatives.

He received a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1974. He later said that affirmative action programs designed to increase the number of black students at Yale helped him gain admission.

He has married twice, most recently to Virginia Lamp in 1987. He has one child, Jamal Adeen, from his first marriage.

Early career

He served as Attorney General of Missouri from 1974-1977, an attorney with Monsanto from 1977-1979, and Legislative Assistant to Senator John Danforth from 1979-1981.

In 1981, he began his rise through the Reagan administration. From 1981-1982, he served as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the US Department of Education, and as Chairman of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1982-1990. Thomas cautiously accepted these assignments aware of the public thrust for placing minorities in government positions.

He became a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1990.


In 1991, upon Thurgood Marshall resignation, President George H. W. Bush nominated Thomas to replace him. This was widely thought to move the court in a more conservative direction, and would continue the presence of a black justice on the court.

Liberal organizations including the NAACP, the Urban League, and the National Organization for Women opposed his appointment to the Supreme Court for his criticism of affirmative action and supposed anti-abortion position. In response to the anti-abortion assertion, Thomas reiterated that he had not developed a stance on the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion. Others felt he was unqualified, having served only two years as a federal judge. He was the first nominee since 1970 (Harrold Carswell) to not receive an "outstanding" rating from the American Bar Association.

The Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Thomas about his political opinions and constitutional interpretation over several days. Towards what had been expected to be the end of the confirmation hearings, a former colleague of Thomas's, Oklahoma University Law School Professor Anita Hill, accused him of sexually harassing her when the two had worked together ten years earlier at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Audiences nationwide watched the confirmation on television. When questioned about the allegations, Thomas famously called the hearings "a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks." In the end, the Committee did not find sufficient evidence to corroborate Anita Hill's claim, and Thomas was confirmed by the Senate with a 52-48 vote on October 15, 1991. He took his seat on October 23, 1991.


Thomas often concurs with Justice Antonin Scalia. He is considered to be generally deferential to original understanding of the Constitution, but sometimes more eager to adopt new principles.

In McIntyre v. Ohio Board of Elections (1995), the only case where Thomas and Scalia directly criticized each other, Thomas concurred that a law banning anonymous campaign literature violated the First Amendment. But while the Court argued this was because anonymity has "played an important role in the progress of mankind", Thomas filed a concurrence arguing that protection of anonymous speech was part of the original understanding of the amendment, noting that several of the Framers had published The Federalist Papers anonymously. Scalia disagreed, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to conclude there was an original understanding and noting the wide popular support for laws against it.

Thomas has used similar reasoning on the equal protection clause; this provides a basis for understanding his support for the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declared state-enforced segregation unconstitutional.

In general, Thomas has been a proponent of an expansive First Amendment, arguing that anonymous speech, money donated to political campaigns, and commercial speech attempting to sell products all qualified for protection. He has also taken the libertarian point of view that the Commerce Clause should be narrowly interpreted, covering only actual interstate commerce, not things related to it.

Thomas has also defended firm interpretations of the Second Amendment, holding in United States v. Printz that the Brady Act's background checks possibly violated it.

Decisions (Race politics)

In Hudson v. McMillan (1992), Thomas dissented, arguing that the beating of a Louisiana inmate by three prison guards was not cruel and unusual punishment. Thomas said that the beating, which left Hudson with loosened teeth, facial bruises, and a cracked dental plate, did not cause sufficient harm to meet the constitutional standard. "In my view, a use of force that causes only insignificant harm to a prisoner may be immoral, it may be tortious, it may be criminal ... but it is not 'cruel and unusual punishment,'" he wrote.

In Missouri v. Jenkins (1995), the majority overturned a lower court ruling that the city of Kansas City, Missouri had to spend more money on their predominantly black school system to attract white suburban kids. Thomas filed a separate concurrence where he attacked Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 case that outlawed state segregation. "'Racial isolation' itself is not a harm; only state-enforced segregation is," he wrote. "After all, if separation itself is a harm, and if integration therefore is the only way that blacks can receive a proper education, then there must be something inferior about blacks." Many liberal groups, who argued that racial isolation had damaging psychological effects, were upset by the decision.

In Adarand Constructors v. Pena (1995), Thomas spoke out against affirmative action. "There can be no doubt that racial paternalism and its unintended consequences can be as poisonous and pernicious as any other form of discrimination." he wrote.

In United States v. Fordice (1992), he agreed that Mississippi had not done enough to desegregate its colleges and universities. But he added that increased integration could hurt historically black colleges. "It would be ironic, to say the least, if the institutions that sustained blacks during segregation were themselves destroyed in an effort to combat its vestiges," he wrote.

In Chicago v. Morales (1999), he dissented, arguing that police needed more power to curb gangs in crime-ridden neighborhoods. "Gangs fill the lives of many of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens with terror that the Court does not give sufficient consideration, often relegating them to the status of prisoners in their own homes," he wrote.

In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002), he upheld an Ohio school voucher plan. "While the romanticized ideal of universal public education resonates with the cognoscenti who oppose vouchers, poor urban families just want the best education for their children, who will certainly need it to function in our high-tech and advanced society," he wrote. "As Thomas Sowell noted 30 years ago: Most black people have faced too many grim, concrete problems to be romantics."