A Justice's Goals

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sixteen years after his Supreme Court confirmation hearings riveted the nation, many still see Clarence Thomas as a polarizing figure. But while discussing his memoir last week with Newsweek-The Post's Lally Weymouth, Thomas stressed that he sees himself as a federal judge -- not an ideologue. Excerpts:

Q: Why did you write the book?

A: It started when my brother died. I suddenly realized I'm the last person in the house. There's nobody left. Who is going to tell the story? We both revered our grandfather.

He didn't sound so nice when he kicked you out of his house.

I think he did the right thing. I think it was a kick in the pants.

The court today seems so divided. It seems like the votes are always 5 to 4.

Yes, but that doesn't mean that the court doesn't get along. [We get] along just fine as an institution, as friends, as colleagues -- it's a wonderful place. The mere fact that people disagree doesn't carry over into how they treat each other. That is what I thought Washington was going to be when I came to town. I didn't think for a moment that because I didn't agree with somebody meant I was going to be hated. It wasn't until I went into the Reagan administration that I started feeling that lash.

How do you think your hearings changed the confirmation process?

It's obvious, isn't it? Would you want to be nominated for something [now]? Justice [Byron R.] White was, he told me, nominated on Day 1 and sworn in 10 days later. Now look at the confirmation hearings. . . . You've got all of this controversy around them -- how does that improve the court? I think it's really poisoned the well.

When you were going through those hearings, did you think . . . you should never have accepted the nomination?

No, not really. I would have preferred not to have been nominated for any variety of reasons. But I think it's wrong for people to do bad things to other people.

Are you referring to the senators or Anita Hill?

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