Justice Says Law Degree 'Worth 15 Cents'
Sunday, October 21, 2007; 4:21 PM
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has a 15-cent price tag stuck to his Yale law degree, blaming the school's affirmative action policies in the 1970s for his difficulty finding a job after he graduated.
Some of his black classmates say Thomas needs to get over his grudge because Yale opened the door to extraordinary opportunities.
Thomas' new autobiography, "My Grandfather's Son," shows how the second black justice on the Supreme Court came to oppose affirmative action after his law school experience. He was one of about 10 blacks in a class of 160 who had arrived at Yale after the unrest of the 1960s, which culminated in a Black Panther Party trial in New Haven that nearly caused a large-scale riot.
The conservative justice says he initially considered his admission to Yale a dream, but soon felt he was there because of his race. He says he loaded up on tough courses to prove he was not inferior to his white classmates but considers the effort futile. He says he was repeatedly turned down in job interviews at law firms after his 1974 graduation.
"I learned the hard way that a law degree from Yale meant one thing for white graduates and another for blacks, no matter how much any one denied it," Thomas writes. "I'd graduated from one of America's top law schools, but racial preference had robbed my achievement of its true value."
Thomas says he stores his Yale Law degree in his basement with a 15-cent sticker from a cigar package on the frame.
His view isn't shared by black classmate William Coleman III.
"I can only say my degree from Yale Law School has been a great boon," said Coleman, now an attorney in Philadelphia. "Had he not gone to a school like Yale, he would not be sitting on the Supreme Court."
Coleman's Yale roommate, Bill Clinton, appointed him general counsel to the U.S. Army, one of several top jobs Coleman has held over the years.
Thomas said he began interviewing with law firms at the beginning of his third year of law school.
"Many asked pointed questions unsubtly suggesting that they doubted I was as smart as my grades indicated," he wrote. "Now I knew what a law degree from Yale was worth when it bore the taint of racial preference."
He said it was months before he got an offer, from then-Missouri Attorney General John Danforth.