I had the pleasure of joining about 20 members of the new media for a dinner with Amazon’s #1 author for dinner this evening. Justice Thomas was wise, candid, and upbeat. The “controversial” justice stresses that he hasn’t had a negative incident in his 16 years on the Court. He explains it is humbling that he is treated so well by audiences he addresses and others he meets. He cheerfully notes that when he has encountered some opposition on university campuses, “it is always the faculty, never the students.” He laughingly allowed that he would have to be “a Middle East dictator with nuclear weapons to be invited to Columbia,” adding that it wasn’t an invitation he was interested in.
His terrific book wasn’t easy to write. Many of the events of his life, like the loss of loved ones, were painful tragedies to recall. He puts his confirmation ordeal in another category. That episode represented “being set upon by bad people.” He is at a loss when asked what he thinks is the most prevalent misconception about him because he doesn’t concern himself with what others are saying. “I know who I am. I don’t have to go into Fun House mirrors to see what others think.”
Justice Thomas offered his opinions about leadership. He would put a premium on selecting leaders based on whether they possessed the “vigorous virtues.” He explains that academic credentials aren’t as important as character in selecting judicial candidates. The cases aren’t that hard, according to Justice Thomas, the challenge is what a judge does when he finds the right answer. He believes that doing the right thing takes “courage, fortitude, and intellectual honesty.” He sees these attributes as far more important than class rank.
His book recounts a meeting he had with President George H. W. Bush’s counsel Boyden Gray who explained that Clarence Thomas’s performance as a Reagan appointee had persuaded the White House that he was unlikely to “buckle” once he was on the Court. (Souter-shy?). They were right. They had found the best-qualified nominee.
The source of his equanimity is no mystery. Justice Thomas brought his favorite prayer, the “Litany of Humility,” to our attention.
I first met this remarkable man about 20 years ago. I’m familiar with his ready, hearty laugh, his generosity and his compassion. Some of those present tonight were meeting him for the first time. All present will no doubt see the disgraceful ordeal he endured as even more unjust than they had imagined. Now, the large audience he deserves can meet Clarence Thomas.