Thomas, Clarence (1948–)

AuthorChristopher E. Smith

Page 2695

In 1991, President GEORGE H. W. BUSH nominated Clarence Thomas to fill the U.S. Supreme Court seat vacated in the retirement of Justice THURGOOD MARSHALL. Thomas's qualifications that appealed to Bush were not those of legal accomplishment and judicial experience. At the time of his nomination, Thomas was at forty-three a young man whose experience consisted largely of service in the administration of President RONALD REAGAN. By 1991, Thomas had served for little more than one year as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Because Marshall was the Supreme Court's first and only African American Justice, Bush apparently wanted to have an African American replacement to avoid being blamed for creating an all-white Supreme Court once again. With virtually no experienced federal African American judges whose decisions were sufficiently conservative to satisfy Bush, the President selected Thomas, who had expressed his commitment to conservative doctrines.

Thomas's confirmation hearings before the SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE caught the nation's attention when Anita Hill, a law professor who had previously worked as Thomas's assistant in the Reagan administration, accused Thomas of sexual harassment. In the aftermath of the controversy, Thomas's nomination was confirmed by the narrowest of margins?fifty-two to forty-eight?in a nationally televised vote in the U.S. SENATE. During his confirmation testimony, Thomas consistently distanced himself from the many speeches he had made endorsing controversial conservative positions, such as opposition to ABORTION and AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, during his years as a Reagan administration official. Although Thomas portrayed himself to the Judiciary Committee as open-minded and moderate, his subsequent performance as a Justice casts him as a confident, doctrinaire jurist whose opinions seek to make significant changes in constitutional law.

Thomas aspires to follow a coherent theory of CONSTITUTIONAL INTERPRETATION. Rather than reacting to individual issues as they arise, Thomas consistently expresses a commitment to interpret the Constitution according to the ORIGINAL INTENT of the Framers who wrote the document. Thomas seeks to eliminate what he sees as JUDICIAL ACTIVISM, interfering in the policies established by legislators and other elected officials. Thomas claims that by following the intentions of the Framers he avoids the pitfall of applying...

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