Tuesday, October 23, 2012

October 23: Justice Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas is sworn in as Justice of the Supreme Court in 1991, becoming the second black Justice, replacing Thurgood Marshall, the 1st black Justice.  At the time of his swearing in, he was the youngest member of the Court.

Thomas grew up poor. When he was two, his father left and his mother moved the family into his grandparent’s home where he had daily meals and indoor plumbing for the first time in his life. He was the only black student in his high school, where he was an Honor Roll student.

After graduating from Yale, Thomas felt potential employers thought he was just a product of affirmative action, feeling that the questions he was asked were questioning whether he was as smart as his grades indicated.  He said, “I peeled a fifteen-cent sticker off a package of cigars and stuck it on the frame of my law degree to remind myself of the mistake I’d made by going to Yale. I never did change my mind about its value.”

While serving on the Supreme Court, he has opposed decisions in favor of affirmative action, such as the June 2003 ruling that continued the program at the University of Michigan's law school. The Court ruled 5-4 (coincidentally, on Thomas’s 43rd birthday) that the University’s practice of using race for admission scoring and consideration could be a factor in the admission decisions. 

During the Anita Hill segment of his Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Thomas was adamant in denying the accusations and told the committee, (which was chaired by Democrat Joe Biden), "This is a circus, it's a national disgrace….. as far as I am concerned, it is high-tech lynching for uppity blacks." (see video clip here) Thomas was confirmed 52-48, the closest confirmation vote in almost a century.

What has been dubbed “The Anita Hill Hearings” made an impact on women. During the hearings, women held only 32 seats in the House/Senate combined.  The election following these hearings (1992) became known as The Year of the Woman when a record number of women ran for public office and 23 women were elected to the House/Senate.


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