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Justice Thomas Lashes Out in Memoir

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Throughout the book, Thomas describes himself as under siege -- variously from preening elites, light-skinned African Americans and critics who object to his conservative politics. Feeling under duress from civil rights leaders, and despondent over reports he was reading about the poor achievement of African American students in high school, Thomas writes that he simply sat at his desk at the Department of Education one evening and wept.

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After the death of his grandfather and grandmother in 1983 and with his first marriage on the rocks, Thomas says he had a fleeting thought of suicide. "I'd actually reached the point where I wondered whether there was any reason for me to go on," he writes. "The mad thought of taking my own life fleetingly crossed my mind. Of course, I didn't consider it seriously, if only because I knew I couldn't abandon [my son] Jamal as I had been abandoned by C," which is how he refers to his father, M.C. Thomas.

Racial imagery abounds in "My Grandfather's Son," a continuation of his description of the Senate hearings as a "high-tech lynching."

"As a child in the Deep South, I'd grown up fearing the lynch mobs of the Ku Klux Klan; as an adult, I was starting to wonder if I'd been afraid of the wrong white people all along," he writes. "My worst fears had come to pass not in Georgia, but in Washington, D.C., where I was being pursued not by bigots in white robes but by left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony."

Thomas writes that he did not watch Hill's televised testimony against him at his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, and so he does not respond in detail to her charges except to call them lies. He describes Hill as "touchy and apt to overreact" and says: "If I or anyone else had done the slightest thing to offend her, she would have complained loudly and instantly, not waited for a decade to make her displeasure known."

He writes that Hill did a "mediocre" job at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where he was chairman, and misrepresented herself at the time of the hearings as a "devoutly religious Reagan-administration employee." "In fact, she was a left-winger who'd never expressed any religious sentiments" and had a job in the administration "because I'd given it to her."

Thomas has particularly caustic comments about the Democratic senators who opposed his nomination. He compares then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) to the lying hypocrites in the old song "Smiling Faces Sometimes" by Undisputed Truth. About former senator Howard Metzenbaum (Ohio): "It would be kind to describe him as unlikable."

And Howell Heflin, the late senator from Alabama, was described by the press as "courtly," Thomas says, but his manner "made me think of a slave owner sitting on the porch of a plantation house."

Thomas has been a sharp critic of affirmative action and the use of racial classifications in schools, but he acknowledges in the book that he was admitted to Yale Law School in 1971 partly because he was black. "I'd graduated from one of America's top law schools -- but racial preference had robbed my achievement of its true value."

Thomas describes his confirmation hearing as a gut-wrenching experience. When told by an aide to President George H.W. Bush that he was under consideration for the high court, "I tried to think of a way to convince President Bush to choose somebody else."

When the time came, of course, he accepted. But that night, he writes, he told his wife, Virginia Lamp Thomas, "You know that some of my opponents are going to try to kill me." Thomas continues: "Of course I didn't mean it literally, but I did feel that there was a sense in which my whole life was at stake. I'd grown up in a part of America where a black man was defenseless against the accusations of any white person -- especially a woman. The fear and vulnerability that I had known then came back to haunt me now."

Thomas credits his mentor, former Missouri senator John C. Danforth, and his wife for getting him through the hearings, and he says his faith was a critical resource: "Each day I left the Caucus Room tired, tormented and anxious, and each day Virginia and I bathed ourselves in God's unwavering love."

But by the time he was confirmed, he said, the prize meant little. Instead of watching the Senate roll call, he drew himself a bath. His wife came to tell him he had been confirmed 52 to 48.

"Whoop-dee-damn-doo," Thomas writes.

Staff writer William Wan contributed to this report.


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