334 SCOTUS JUSTICES

Justices of the United States Supreme Court have wielded extraordinary power throughout the nation’s history.  Unlike presidents and prominent legislators, however, they frequently remain rather unknown to the general public.  But for anyone interested, there are some fine treatises giving us insight into the lives and personalities of the jurists.  Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female justice (appointed by President Ronald Reagan) set down her memories of life on the Arizona in Lazy B:  Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch the American Southwest (New York:  Random House, c. 2002; Kindle Edition).  She prefaced her work with a statement by Wallace Stegner:  “There is something about living in big empty space, where people are few and distant, under a great sky that is alternately serene and furious, exposed to sun from four in the morning till nine at night, and to a wind that never seems to rest—there is something about exposure to that big country that not only tells an individual how small he is, but steadily tells him who he is.”  And O’Connor obviously learned who she was by understanding the big country around her.  

This “big empty space” certainly helped shape O’Connor, giving her a strong, nature-based frontier ethic.  Growing up unchurched, she once asked her father why they didn’t  “ever go to church on Sunday?”   He responded:  “‘It’s too far to go to town.  Besides, most of the local preachers aren’t very good.’  “Do you believe in God?” [she asked]  ‘Yes, I do. I know some people question whether God exists and whether all those Bible stories are true.  I don’t know about the stories, but when you watch the world around us . . . and see the laws of nature work, you have to believe that some power beyond us has created the universe and has established the way nature works.  . . . . It is an amazing, complex, but orderly universe.  And we are only specks in it. There is surely something—a God if you will—who created all of this. And we don’t have to go to church to appreciate it.  It is all around us. This is our church.” (p. 143).  So to the extent she had a moral compass, it came from the Natural Law and her parents’ frontier ethos.  

The Lazy B Ranch was located west of Lordsburg, New Mexico, in the “sparse, open high desert country south of the Gila River on the border of Arizona and New Mexico.”  It was land described by Kit Carson as “so desolate, desert, and God-forsaken that a wolf could not make a living on it” (p. 14).  It’s “high desert country—dry, windswept, clear, often cloudless” (p. 6).  “Water was scarce and hard to find.  Every drop counted.  We built catchment basins and dirt tanks to catch and store it.  We pumped it from underground.  We measured it and used it sparingly.  Life depended on it” (p. 7).  Her father said:  “‘Keep the grass healthy, keep adequate water reserves, take care of the land, and it will take care of us’” (p. 33).  Their cattle needed to graze on public lands (the “open range”), so the Lazy B Ranch controlled some 160,000 acres and measured “roughly 250 square miles, an area about 16 miles across and 15 miles long” (p. 19).  It enabled the Days to graze some 2,000 cattle.

The Lazy B “was the largest and most successful ranch in the region” due to the hard work of her  parents, Harry and Ada Mae Day.  They took up residence there in 1927, and they “thought there was no better life anyone could live than on the Lazy B.”  They lived there 50 years and had two children, including the first-born Sandra, who developed an especially strong bond with her father.  “As the first child, I was always the darling of my daddy’s eye.  . . . .  I loved the ranch and adored my father.  I loved [Mother] MO, too, but the bond between a little girl and her father is often something special.  How lucky I felt to be able to share as much of his life as I did!” (p. 96).  She also developed “a love for the land and for the way of life on the ranch that has stayed with me.  Spending hours each day at the dinner table discussing ranching, politics, or economics is a treat that many young people don’t experience” (p. 29). Sandra’s mother brought cultural refinement and a commitment to education in the family.  She taught Sandra to read at the age of four and provided a variety of magazines and books for her to devour.  “MO was a tidy package of good looks, competence, and charm.  She could fit in at a gathering of Arizona ranch wives or at an elegant party in Washington, D.C.  She was the only female role model we had,” and she “made a hard life look easy.  In a harsh environment where weather, the cowboys, and the animals were all unpredictable, she was unfailingly loving and kind.  She created an appealing and delightful life for her family all her days.  While some of the cowboys taught us that only the toughest survive, MO taught us that kindness and love can also produce survivors, and in a happy atmosphere” (p. 49).  

In addition to her family, O’Connor fondly remembered valuable ranch “hands,” a few of whom spent much of their lives as employees of the Lazy B.  “The cowboys did whatever  job was required.  They met the unexpected as though they’d known about it all along.  They never complained, and they made the best of everything along the way” (p. 124).  She devotes many pages to describing life on the ranch—round-ups, horses, routine tasks so essential for its operation.  Less happy memories include the growing federal government’s role in controlling the ranch, especially as environmentalists successfully pursued their agendas.  After her parents’ deaths, her brother Alan ran the ranch for a few years before selling it.  He and Sandra “worry about the future of the federal and state lands in the greater Southwest. We agree on one thing:  the land is better protected from destruction by off-road vehicles and people out for target shooting when it is occupied by responsible ranchers.” 

When it was time for her to go to school Sandra want to Redford School for Girls in El Paso, Texas, where she lived with her grandmother while attending classes.  She acquired a fine education and made life-long friends.  In due time she attended another El Paso school, Austin High School.  When she was 16 she enrolled at Stanford University, graduating with distinction and later attending its law school.  Graduating in 1952 she married a fellow law school classmate and soon began her legal career in Phoenix.  Thirty years later President Reagan appointed her to the Supreme Court, something O’Connor found almost incredible.  “It did not seem possible that a ranch girl would grow up to serve on our nation’s highest court” (p. 199).   Concluding her account, O’Connor said:  “The power of the memories of life on the Lazy B is strong.   It surges through my mind and my heart often.  . . . . We know that our characters were shaped by our experiences there,” where the “value system we learned was simple and unsophisticated and the product of necessity.  What counted was competence and the ability to do whatever was required to maintain the ranch operation in good working order—the livestock, the equipment, the buildings, wells, fences, and vehicles.  Verbal skills were less important than the ability to know and understand how things work in the physical world.  Personal qualities of honesty, dependability, competence, and good humor were valued most. These qualities were evident in most of the people who lived and worked at the Lazy B through the years” (p. 315).

And these were the qualities that sustained O’Connor throughout her years, entitling her to our respect for her years of public service on the Supreme Court of the United States.  

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One of the finest autobiographies I’ve read is Clarence Thomas’s My Grandfather’s Son:  A Memoir (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, c. 2007).  Looking back over his life, he says:  “All you can do is put one foot in front of the other and ‘play the hand that you’re dealt,’ as my grandfather so often said.  That’s what I did:  I did my best and hoped for the best, too often fearing that I was getting the worst.  In fact, though, I got everything I needed.  Much of it came from two people, my grandfather and grandmother, who gave me what I needed to endure and, eventually, to prosper” (p. x).  His grandparents were hardly famous or important to the world-at-large, but they meant everything to young Clarence.  

Reared for a few years by his mother (he almost never saw his father), Thomas was locked into  her poverty-stricken, dysfunctional world before her parents agreed to take care of Clarence and his brother.  Consequently:  “In every way that counts, I am my grandfather’s son.  I even called him ‘Daddy,’” and he was “determined to mold me in his image.  . . . .  He was the one hero in my life.  What I am is what he made me” (p. 2).  “Daddy” had a third-grade education and could barely read, but he had a strong work-ethic and determined to discipline his grandsons.  “‘The damn vacation is over,’ Daddy had told us on the morning we moved into his house.”  He declared that “while our mother had allowed us to come and go as we pleased, there would be ‘manners and behavior’ and ‘rules and regulations’ from now on” (p. 12).  That meant a great deal of hard work, which included helping Daddy deliver fuel oil when Clarence got out of school!  And at the age of 10 he was informed he was expected “to pull my load on the farm” (p. 23). 

“The family farm and our unheated oil truck became my most important classrooms, the schools in which Daddy passed on the wisdom he had acquired in the course of a long life as an ill-educated, modestly successful black man in the Deep South.  Despite the hardships he had faced, there was no bitterness or self-pity in his heart” (p. 26).   “He never praised us, just as he never hugged us” (p. 26).  In return, however, they “lived a life of luxury” compared to their early years, for they had a comfortable home with modern appliances,  plenty of food, and the security of knowing they were cared for.  As a child, Thomas often resented his grandfather’s severity.  But later in life he “came to appreciate what I had not understood as a child:  I had been raised by the greatest man I have ever known” (p. 28).

His grandfather had earlier joined the Roman Catholic Church, admiring her orderly rituals and disciplined clergy.  He also wanted a quality education for his grandsons and enrolled them in the Catholic grammar and high schools in Savannah, Georgia, where the nuns were “far more demanding” than the public school teachers.  Importantly, the nuns “taught us that God made all men equal, that blacks were inherently equal to whites, and that segregation was morally wrong” (p. 15).  Serving as an altar boy for mass, young Thomas contemplated becoming a priest and entered a Catholic seminary, where he studied hard and excelled in his course work.  Importantly, he profited from the discipline it afforded.  In time he decided to drop out of the seminary and go to college—a decision that precipitated an unexpected confrontation with his grandfather, who ordered him to leave home and survive on his own!  He left home in 1968 and easily slipped into an angry state, railing against various injustices in the country.  A friend of his introduced him to Marxism and Students for a Democratic Society, so when he went off to study at Holy Cross University in Massachusetts he was “an angry black man.”  Indeed:  “Racism had become the answer to all my questions, the trump card that won every argument” (p. 52).  He joined anti-war protests, chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh,” and endorsed all the then-hip radical causes.  But one morning, after risking his academic career attending a protest, he “stopped in front of the chapel and prayed for the first time in nearly two years.  I promised Almighty God that if He would purge my heart of anger, I would never hate again” (p. 60).  Soon thereafter he “began to suspect that Daddy had been right all along:  the only hope I had of changing the world was to change myself first” (p. 60).  

Thenceforth he studied ever more diligently, gaining entrance to the honors program at Holy Cross and then to Yale Law School.  He was also rethinking his worldview, doubting the efficacy of  the “affirmative action” policies that were bringing unqualified blacks into universities where they were bound to fail.  He began to critique the burgeoning welfare system’s impact  on African Americans.  Following graduation from Yale, he joined the staff of John Danforth, then serving as Missouri’s attorney general.  Thomas and his wife settled into Jefferson City, Missouri, finding acceptance and happiness in both his work and their social life.  Continuing to rethink his views on race, he found a helpful guide in Thomas Sowell, an erudite black economist.  When Danforth was elected to the United States Senate, Thomas soon followed him to Washington, D.C., and in 1980 he registered as a Republican and voted for Ronald Reagan!  “It was a giant step for a black man, but I believed it to be a logical one.  I saw no good coming from an ever-larger government that meddled with incompetence if not mendacity, in the lives of its citizens” (p. 130).  Now moving in Republican circles, he was appointed assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education and later chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  He was turning more conservative, and as he took public stands at odds with the liberal agenda of journalists and civil rights leaders he suffered constant criticism and calumny.  “The only good things about these attacks was that they encouraged me to return to the faith that had sustained me in my youth” (p. 184).  He began praying and attending church, confessing that by “running away from God, I had thrown away the most important part of my grandparents’ legacy” (p. 184).  

When George W. Bush was elected President in 1988, he decided to nominate Thomas to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  Once confirmed by the Senate in 1989, he found the position much to his liking.  The next year, when Justice Marshall retired, President Bush nominated Thomas to replace him on the Supreme Court.  While making the obligatory visits to senators on Capitol Hill the barrage of slanderous attacks in the media rendered his “once-cheerful home . . . a joyless hermit’s cell” (p. 225).  Having earlier witnessed the devious and dishonest way senators Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden had treated Robert Bork, Thomas braced himself for the barrage of abuse to come.  But he never imagined that one of the women he had helped in his prior positions would become “my most traitorous adversary” (p. 230).  That woman, of course was Anita Hill.

Appearing before the Judiciary Committee, Thomas encountered an agenda crafted by its chairman, Joe Biden.  Privately, Biden had seemed cordial and supportive, but in public it became clear that his “smooth, sincere promises that he would treat me fairly were nothing but talk” (p. 236).  Capping his duplicity, Biden called Anita Hill to testify, and she made virulent allegations regarding his sexually-offensive behavior.  The media mob took her every word as gospel while disregarding Thomas’s explanations and defense.   Deeply wounded and frustrated by the process, Thomas finally erupted in a memorable verbal torrent:  “This is a circus.  It is a national disgrace.  And from my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I am concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that, unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you and you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree” (p. 271).  Members of the committee were clearly stunned.  Public opinion instantly shifted.  And Clarence Thomas would become a justice of the United States Supreme Court, joining Antonin Scalia in rendering consistently originalist opinions.  

Throughout those difficult days Thomas relied on his deepening Christian faith.  He was also given invaluable strength by his faithful wife and the enduring support (and times of prayer with) Senator Danforth.  And he finally found how wonderfully his Daddy had lived out the wisdom he desperate needed in those trying days.  My Grandfather’s Son is an illuminating autobiography, because it reveals how one’s spiritual life and gratitude for family make life ultimately good. 

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In Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court (Washington:  Regnery Publishing, Kindle Edition, c. 2019), Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severeno provide a detailed account of one of the more disgraceful episodes in American history.  President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018.  Justice Kennedy had recommended six of his former clerks, including Kavanaugh, whom he considered simply “brilliant.”  Kavanaugh had served on the D.C. Circuit Court for 12 years, written some 300 opinions, and was widely applauded for his judicial acumen.  (By contrast, Obama appointee Elena Kagan “had no judicial opinions to her name” but was easily confirmed by a Republican controlled Senate).  Kavanaugh didn’t quite fit the anti-establishment profile Trump wanted, but he seemed to be a safe, “moderate” choice who could easily survive the confirmation process.  Adding to his judicial accomplishments, he regularly attended a Catholic church and had a sterling reputation as a devoted husband and father.  Qualifications, however, meant nothing to powerful Democrats and their militant (pro-abortion) supporters.  As soon as it was known Trump had named his nominee, “a large crowd gathered outside the Supreme Court in a protest organized by the Center for American Progress (CAP), funded by George Soros and founded by John Podesta, a close aide to Barack Obama and the Clintons.  As they waited to find out who it was, they chanted “Hey, hey! Ho, ho!  The patriarchy has got to go!’” (#1131).   Partisans of the “resistance,”  Senate Democrats had used every possible parliamentary procedure to delay every Trump cabinet nomination, and they were even more determined to frustrate his judicial nominees.  

When the Judiciary Committee scheduled the Kavanaugh hearing, “Democrats considered staging a mass walkout or not showing up.  Fearing that such an action might backfire, however, they came up with a different plan:  disruption” (#1620).  The committee room was packed, while representatives of the “NAACP and NARAL wore shirts of various colors and lined the walkways, forming a rainbow of protesters” (#1625).  Highly disciplined and meticulously scripted, disrupters in the room “shrieked and were arrested, a pattern that would continue throughout the hearings” (#1637).   As protesters (flown in from all parts of the country and funded by Planned Parenthood) were arrested and removed, their seats were immediately filled by others, waiting their time to interrupt the procedures.  The Democrat Senators disrupted in their own way.  As soon as Chairman Charles Grassley opened the hearing, Senator Kamala Harris interrupted him, demanding more time to examine the 42,000 just-released documents dealing with Kavanaugh’s judicial records.  “It took nearly an hour and a half, with dozens of interruptions, for Grassley to get through his ten-minute opening statement” (#1651).  “A major source of the hearings’ drama was political ambition.  Ever since Joe Biden’s grandstanding during the [1987] Bork hearings, senators have been powerfully tempted to exploit a perch on the Senate Judiciary Committee for public attention” (#1871).  So  Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar tried to outdo each other in posturing for the public at Kavanaugh’s expense.  

Then Diane Feinstein, defying procedural rules, released copies of a letter alleging Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted a woman while they were in high school.  Kavanaugh couldn’t remember the woman, Christine Blasey Ford, since they’d attended different schools and moved in different social circles.  Importantly, those who’d known her insisted her “behavior in high school and college were dramatically at odds with her presentation in the media” (#2215).  On the other hand, eighty-seven women who had known Kavanaugh for many years held a press conference to make clear their support of him and validate his probity.  Senator John Cornyn of Texas put it plainly:  “‘The problem is, Dr. Ford can’t remember when it was, where it was, or how it came to be. There are some gaps there that need to be filled.’  Cornyn had simply stated the facts.  Those were enormous gaps in an accusation of sexual assault that was intended to keep one of the nation’s most distinguished judges off the Supreme Court.  But the media responded as if Cornyn were maliciously sowing doubt about an account that anyone of sound mind must regard as unimpeachable” (#2331).   With no concern for legal traditions, Senate Democrats and the media seized upon Ford’s words  as the capstone of their ferocious attacks on Kavanaugh.  “Normally, the burden of proof is on the accuser, but the media were not even paying lip service to that principle” (#2213).  

Hemingway and Severeno carefully document all the developments in this disgraceful episode, making it clear how maliciously Democrats and media sought to destroy a good man.  That Kavanaugh survived and hearings and was finally approved as a Supreme Court justice bears witness to his courage and the constant support of the president who nominated him. 

SCOTUS JUSTICES     

Justices of the United States Supreme Court have wielded extraordinary power throughout the nation’s history.  Unlike presidents and prominent legislators, however, they frequently remain rather unknown to the general public.  But for anyone interested, there are some fine treatises giving us insight into the lives and personalities of the jurists.  Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female justice (appointed by President Ronald Reagan) set down her memories of life on the Arizona in Lazy B:  Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch the American Southwest (New York:  Random House, c. 2002; Kindle Edition).  She prefaced her work with a statement by Wallace Stegner:  “There is something about living in big empty space, where people are few and distant, under a great sky that is alternately serene and furious, exposed to sun from four in the morning till nine at night, and to a wind that never seems to rest—there is something about exposure to that big country that not only tells an individual how small he is, but steadily tells him who he is.”  And O’Connor obviously learned who she was by understanding the big country around her.  

This “big empty space” certainly helped shape O’Connor, giving her a strong, nature-based frontier ethic.  Growing up unchurched, she once asked her father why they didn’t  “ever go to church on Sunday?”   He responded:  “‘It’s too far to go to town.  Besides, most of the local preachers aren’t very good.’  “Do you believe in God?” [she asked]  ‘Yes, I do. I know some people question whether God exists and whether all those Bible stories are true.  I don’t know about the stories, but when you watch the world around us . . . and see the laws of nature work, you have to believe that some power beyond us has created the universe and has established the way nature works.  . . . . It is an amazing, complex, but orderly universe.  And we are only specks in it. There is surely something—a God if you will—who created all of this. And we don’t have to go to church to appreciate it.  It is all around us. This is our church.” (p. 143).  So to the extent she had a moral compass, it came from the Natural Law and her parents’ frontier ethos.  

The Lazy B Ranch was located west of Lordsburg, New Mexico, in the “sparse, open high desert country south of the Gila River on the border of Arizona and New Mexico.”  It was land described by Kit Carson as “so desolate, desert, and God-forsaken that a wolf could not make a living on it” (p. 14).  It’s “high desert country—dry, windswept, clear, often cloudless” (p. 6).  “Water was scarce and hard to find.  Every drop counted.  We built catchment basins and dirt tanks to catch and store it.  We pumped it from underground.  We measured it and used it sparingly.  Life depended on it” (p. 7).  Her father said:  “‘Keep the grass healthy, keep adequate water reserves, take care of the land, and it will take care of us’” (p. 33).  Their cattle needed to graze on public lands (the “open range”), so the Lazy B Ranch controlled some 160,000 acres and measured “roughly 250 square miles, an area about 16 miles across and 15 miles long” (p. 19).  It enabled the Days to graze some 2,000 cattle.

The Lazy B “was the largest and most successful ranch in the region” due to the hard work of her  parents, Harry and Ada Mae Day.  They took up residence there in 1927, and they “thought there was no better life anyone could live than on the Lazy B.”  They lived there 50 years and had two children, including the first-born Sandra, who developed an especially strong bond with her father.  “As the first child, I was always the darling of my daddy’s eye.  . . . .  I loved the ranch and adored my father.  I loved [Mother] MO, too, but the bond between a little girl and her father is often something special.  How lucky I felt to be able to share as much of his life as I did!” (p. 96).  She also developed “a love for the land and for the way of life on the ranch that has stayed with me.  Spending hours each day at the dinner table discussing ranching, politics, or economics is a treat that many young people don’t experience” (p. 29). Sandra’s mother brought cultural refinement and a commitment to education in the family.  She taught Sandra to read at the age of four and provided a variety of magazines and books for her to devour.  “MO was a tidy package of good looks, competence, and charm.  She could fit in at a gathering of Arizona ranch wives or at an elegant party in Washington, D.C.  She was the only female role model we had,” and she “made a hard life look easy.  In a harsh environment where weather, the cowboys, and the animals were all unpredictable, she was unfailingly loving and kind.  She created an appealing and delightful life for her family all her days.  While some of the cowboys taught us that only the toughest survive, MO taught us that kindness and love can also produce survivors, and in a happy atmosphere” (p. 49).  

In addition to her family, O’Connor fondly remembered valuable ranch “hands,” a few of whom spent much of their lives as employees of the Lazy B.  “The cowboys did whatever  job was required.  They met the unexpected as though they’d known about it all along.  They never complained, and they made the best of everything along the way” (p. 124).  She devotes many pages to describing life on the ranch—round-ups, horses, routine tasks so essential for its operation.  Less happy memories include the growing federal government’s role in controlling the ranch, especially as environmentalists successfully pursued their agendas.  After her parents’ deaths, her brother Alan ran the ranch for a few years before selling it.  He and Sandra “worry about the future of the federal and state lands in the greater Southwest. We agree on one thing:  the land is better protected from destruction by off-road vehicles and people out for target shooting when it is occupied by responsible ranchers.” 

When it was time for her to go to school Sandra want to Redford School for Girls in El Paso, Texas, where she lived with her grandmother while attending classes.  She acquired a fine education and made life-long friends.  In due time she attended another El Paso school, Austin High School.  When she was 16 she enrolled at Stanford University, graduating with distinction and later attending its law school.  Graduating in 1952 she married a fellow law school classmate and soon began her legal career in Phoenix.  Thirty years later President Reagan appointed her to the Supreme Court, something O’Connor found almost incredible.  “It did not seem possible that a ranch girl would grow up to serve on our nation’s highest court” (p. 199).   Concluding her account, O’Connor said:  “The power of the memories of life on the Lazy B is strong.   It surges through my mind and my heart often.  . . . . We know that our characters were shaped by our experiences there,” where the “value system we learned was simple and unsophisticated and the product of necessity.  What counted was competence and the ability to do whatever was required to maintain the ranch operation in good working order—the livestock, the equipment, the buildings, wells, fences, and vehicles.  Verbal skills were less important than the ability to know and understand how things work in the physical world.  Personal qualities of honesty, dependability, competence, and good humor were valued most. These qualities were evident in most of the people who lived and worked at the Lazy B through the years” (p. 315).

And these were the qualities that sustained O’Connor throughout her years, entitling her to our respect for her years of public service on the Supreme Court of the United States.  

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One of the finest autobiographies I’ve read is Clarence Thomas’s My Grandfather’s Son:  A Memoir (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, c. 2007).  Looking back over his life, he says:  “All you can do is put one foot in front of the other and ‘play the hand that you’re dealt,’ as my grandfather so often said.  That’s what I did:  I did my best and hoped for the best, too often fearing that I was getting the worst.  In fact, though, I got everything I needed.  Much of it came from two people, my grandfather and grandmother, who gave me what I needed to endure and, eventually, to prosper” (p. x).  His grandparents were hardly famous or important to the world-at-large, but they meant everything to young Clarence.  

Reared for a few years by his mother (he almost never saw his father), Thomas was locked into  her poverty-stricken, dysfunctional world before her parents agreed to take care of Clarence and his brother.  Consequently:  “In every way that counts, I am my grandfather’s son.  I even called him ‘Daddy,’” and he was “determined to mold me in his image.  . . . .  He was the one hero in my life.  What I am is what he made me” (p. 2).  “Daddy” had a third-grade education and could barely read, but he had a strong work-ethic and determined to discipline his grandsons.  “‘The damn vacation is over,’ Daddy had told us on the morning we moved into his house.”  He declared that “while our mother had allowed us to come and go as we pleased, there would be ‘manners and behavior’ and ‘rules and regulations’ from now on” (p. 12).  That meant a great deal of hard work, which included helping Daddy deliver fuel oil when Clarence got out of school!  And at the age of 10 he was informed he was expected “to pull my load on the farm” (p. 23). 

“The family farm and our unheated oil truck became my most important classrooms, the schools in which Daddy passed on the wisdom he had acquired in the course of a long life as an ill-educated, modestly successful black man in the Deep South.  Despite the hardships he had faced, there was no bitterness or self-pity in his heart” (p. 26).   “He never praised us, just as he never hugged us” (p. 26).  In return, however, they “lived a life of luxury” compared to their early years, for they had a comfortable home with modern appliances,  plenty of food, and the security of knowing they were cared for.  As a child, Thomas often resented his grandfather’s severity.  But later in life he “came to appreciate what I had not understood as a child:  I had been raised by the greatest man I have ever known” (p. 28).

His grandfather had earlier joined the Roman Catholic Church, admiring her orderly rituals and disciplined clergy.  He also wanted a quality education for his grandsons and enrolled them in the Catholic grammar and high schools in Savannah, Georgia, where the nuns were “far more demanding” than the public school teachers.  Importantly, the nuns “taught us that God made all men equal, that blacks were inherently equal to whites, and that segregation was morally wrong” (p. 15).  Serving as an altar boy for mass, young Thomas contemplated becoming a priest and entered a Catholic seminary, where he studied hard and excelled in his course work.  Importantly, he profited from the discipline it afforded.  In time he decided to drop out of the seminary and go to college—a decision that precipitated an unexpected confrontation with his grandfather, who ordered him to leave home and survive on his own!  He left home in 1968 and easily slipped into an angry state, railing against various injustices in the country.  A friend of his introduced him to Marxism and Students for a Democratic Society, so when he went off to study at Holy Cross University in Massachusetts he was “an angry black man.”  Indeed:  “Racism had become the answer to all my questions, the trump card that won every argument” (p. 52).  He joined anti-war protests, chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh,” and endorsed all the then-hip radical causes.  But one morning, after risking his academic career attending a protest, he “stopped in front of the chapel and prayed for the first time in nearly two years.  I promised Almighty God that if He would purge my heart of anger, I would never hate again” (p. 60).  Soon thereafter he “began to suspect that Daddy had been right all along:  the only hope I had of changing the world was to change myself first” (p. 60).  

Thenceforth he studied ever more diligently, gaining entrance to the honors program at Holy Cross and then to Yale Law School.  He was also rethinking his worldview, doubting the efficacy of  the “affirmative action” policies that were bringing unqualified blacks into universities where they were bound to fail.  He began to critique the burgeoning welfare system’s impact  on African Americans.  Following graduation from Yale, he joined the staff of John Danforth, then serving as Missouri’s attorney general.  Thomas and his wife settled into Jefferson City, Missouri, finding acceptance and happiness in both his work and their social life.  Continuing to rethink his views on race, he found a helpful guide in Thomas Sowell, an erudite black economist.  When Danforth was elected to the United States Senate, Thomas soon followed him to Washington, D.C., and in 1980 he registered as a Republican and voted for Ronald Reagan!  “It was a giant step for a black man, but I believed it to be a logical one.  I saw no good coming from an ever-larger government that meddled with incompetence if not mendacity, in the lives of its citizens” (p. 130).  Now moving in Republican circles, he was appointed assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education and later chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  He was turning more conservative, and as he took public stands at odds with the liberal agenda of journalists and civil rights leaders he suffered constant criticism and calumny.  “The only good things about these attacks was that they encouraged me to return to the faith that had sustained me in my youth” (p. 184).  He began praying and attending church, confessing that by “running away from God, I had thrown away the most important part of my grandparents’ legacy” (p. 184).  

When George W. Bush was elected President in 1988, he decided to nominate Thomas to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  Once confirmed by the Senate in 1989, he found the position much to his liking.  The next year, when Justice Marshall retired, President Bush nominated Thomas to replace him on the Supreme Court.  While making the obligatory visits to senators on Capitol Hill the barrage of slanderous attacks in the media rendered his “once-cheerful home . . . a joyless hermit’s cell” (p. 225).  Having earlier witnessed the devious and dishonest way senators Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden had treated Robert Bork, Thomas braced himself for the barrage of abuse to come.  But he never imagined that one of the women he had helped in his prior positions would become “my most traitorous adversary” (p. 230).  That woman, of course was Anita Hill.

Appearing before the Judiciary Committee, Thomas encountered an agenda crafted by its chairman, Joe Biden.  Privately, Biden had seemed cordial and supportive, but in public it became clear that his “smooth, sincere promises that he would treat me fairly were nothing but talk” (p. 236).  Capping his duplicity, Biden called Anita Hill to testify, and she made virulent allegations regarding his sexually-offensive behavior.  The media mob took her every word as gospel while disregarding Thomas’s explanations and defense.   Deeply wounded and frustrated by the process, Thomas finally erupted in a memorable verbal torrent:  “This is a circus.  It is a national disgrace.  And from my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I am concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that, unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you and you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree” (p. 271).  Members of the committee were clearly stunned.  Public opinion instantly shifted.  And Clarence Thomas would become a justice of the United States Supreme Court, joining Antonin Scalia in rendering consistently originalist opinions.  

Throughout those difficult days Thomas relied on his deepening Christian faith.  He was also given invaluable strength by his faithful wife and the enduring support (and times of prayer with) Senator Danforth.  And he finally found how wonderfully his Daddy had lived out the wisdom he desperate needed in those trying days.  My Grandfather’s Son is an illuminating autobiography, because it reveals how one’s spiritual life and gratitude for family make life ultimately good. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court (Washington:  Regnery Publishing, Kindle Edition, c. 2019), Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severeno provide a detailed account of one of the more disgraceful episodes in American history.  President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018.  Justice Kennedy had recommended six of his former clerks, including Kavanaugh, whom he considered simply “brilliant.”  Kavanaugh had served on the D.C. Circuit Court for 12 years, written some 300 opinions, and was widely applauded for his judicial acumen.  (By contrast, Obama appointee Elena Kagan “had no judicial opinions to her name” but was easily confirmed by a Republican controlled Senate).  Kavanaugh didn’t quite fit the anti-establishment profile Trump wanted, but he seemed to be a safe, “moderate” choice who could easily survive the confirmation process.  Adding to his judicial accomplishments, he regularly attended a Catholic church and had a sterling reputation as a devoted husband and father.  Qualifications, however, meant nothing to powerful Democrats and their militant (pro-abortion) supporters.  As soon as it was known Trump had named his nominee, “a large crowd gathered outside the Supreme Court in a protest organized by the Center for American Progress (CAP), funded by George Soros and founded by John Podesta, a close aide to Barack Obama and the Clintons.  As they waited to find out who it was, they chanted “Hey, hey! Ho, ho!  The patriarchy has got to go!’” (#1131).   Partisans of the “resistance,”  Senate Democrats had used every possible parliamentary procedure to delay every Trump cabinet nomination, and they were even more determined to frustrate his judicial nominees.  

When the Judiciary Committee scheduled the Kavanaugh hearing, “Democrats considered staging a mass walkout or not showing up.  Fearing that such an action might backfire, however, they came up with a different plan:  disruption” (#1620).  The committee room was packed, while representatives of the “NAACP and NARAL wore shirts of various colors and lined the walkways, forming a rainbow of protesters” (#1625).  Highly disciplined and meticulously scripted, disrupters in the room “shrieked and were arrested, a pattern that would continue throughout the hearings” (#1637).   As protesters (flown in from all parts of the country and funded by Planned Parenthood) were arrested and removed, their seats were immediately filled by others, waiting their time to interrupt the procedures.  The Democrat Senators disrupted in their own way.  As soon as Chairman Charles Grassley opened the hearing, Senator Kamala Harris interrupted him, demanding more time to examine the 42,000 just-released documents dealing with Kavanaugh’s judicial records.  “It took nearly an hour and a half, with dozens of interruptions, for Grassley to get through his ten-minute opening statement” (#1651).  “A major source of the hearings’ drama was political ambition.  Ever since Joe Biden’s grandstanding during the [1987] Bork hearings, senators have been powerfully tempted to exploit a perch on the Senate Judiciary Committee for public attention” (#1871).  So  Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar tried to outdo each other in posturing for the public at Kavanaugh’s expense.  

Then Diane Feinstein, defying procedural rules, released copies of a letter alleging Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted a woman while they were in high school.  Kavanaugh couldn’t remember the woman, Christine Blasey Ford, since they’d attended different schools and moved in different social circles.  Importantly, those who’d known her insisted her “behavior in high school and college were dramatically at odds with her presentation in the media” (#2215).  On the other hand, eighty-seven women who had known Kavanaugh for many years held a press conference to make clear their support of him and validate his probity.  Senator John Cornyn of Texas put it plainly:  “‘The problem is, Dr. Ford can’t remember when it was, where it was, or how it came to be. There are some gaps there that need to be filled.’  Cornyn had simply stated the facts.  Those were enormous gaps in an accusation of sexual assault that was intended to keep one of the nation’s most distinguished judges off the Supreme Court.  But the media responded as if Cornyn were maliciously sowing doubt about an account that anyone of sound mind must regard as unimpeachable” (#2331).   With no concern for legal traditions, Senate Democrats and the media seized upon Ford’s words  as the capstone of their ferocious attacks on Kavanaugh.  “Normally, the burden of proof is on the accuser, but the media were not even paying lip service to that principle” (#2213).  

Hemingway and Severeno carefully document all the developments in this disgraceful episode, making it clear how maliciously Democrats and media sought to destroy a good man.  That Kavanaugh survived and hearings and was finally approved as a Supreme Court justice bears witness to his courage and the constant support of the president who nominated him.