Let's Do the Time Warp Again

By Dana Milbank
Friday, November 16, 2007

The Earth has circled the sun 16 times since Clarence Thomas took his seat at the Supreme Court. But for Justice Thomas, it's forever 1991.

Thomas may be a mute during oral arguments, but yesterday he opened his heart in the safe confines of the conservative Federalist Society's annual gathering. And it took him precisely 31 seconds to get to the subject most on his mind: his confirmation battle.

He turned to C. Boyden Gray, President George H.W. Bush's White House counsel, and thanked him for his kindness "during the confirmation, when both he and the president were steadfast, firm and courageous."

He next turned to Lee Liberman Otis, another White House lawyer in '91. She, too, was "central in my confirmation process" and "gave me some of the most important advice throughout that process," Thomas said. "This is an opportunity to thank her personally from the bottom of my heart."

Couldn't he have found time to do that earlier? Like by 1992, at the latest?

But Thomas wasn't the only one in a time warp. Gray, apparently speaking of the first President Bush, introduced Thomas by saying: "My boss constantly goes over these times of his confirmation. I think he feels it's the best thing he ever did."

Even the softball questions from the audience kept to the Spirit of '91: Does the confirmation process harm the courts? And, in retrospect, would he have gone through with his confirmation battle?

"Oh, I don't think you have any alternative," came Thomas's inevitable answer to the second query. He spoke of soldiers wounded in Iraq. "Look at me: I don't have any wounds," he said.

Of course, some wounds are invisible. And judging from the constant return to his confirmation fight yesterday, Thomas carries some scars still -- a case of post-Anita-Hill stress disorder.

To those who know Thomas only as a silent man on the bench, he proved to be a confident public speaker, adept at the one-liner. On his years on the court: "You almost want to say, 'You need to get a life!' " On the most important thing to get out of law school: "A degree." On his days in law school: "We'd go get beer on Thursday, a dollar a pitcher -- you could have a lot of good thoughts with that."

But there were signs that Thomas is not a regular on the speaking circuit. "You know, it's really hard to talk up here when this guy in front of me keeps moving," Thomas announced early in his speech. He was referring to a television screen on the floor in front of him that was showing his own image -- but because nobody but Thomas could see the TV, nobody knew what he was talking about.

"It's me! I see myself moving around!" Thomas explained, then let out a resonant laugh: "Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!" He continued: "This guy keeps moving around in front of me. Jeez! At any rate, stop looking at this guy in front of me! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! You look at it and think, it's too much of a good thing!"

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