Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

Clarence ThomasClarence Thomas (born June 23, 1948) is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, having served since 1991. Justice Thomas is the second African American to serve on the nation's highest court. Justice Thurgood Marshall, whom he succeeded, was the first.

From 1974 to 1977, Thomas was an Assistant Attorney General of Missouri under then State Attorney General John Danforth. When Danforth was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976 to 1979, Thomas left to become an attorney with Monsanto Company in St. Louis, Missouri. He moved to Washington, D.C. and returned to work for Danforth from 1979 to 1981 as a Legislative Assistant. Both men shared a common bond in that both had studied to be ordained (although in different denominations). Danforth was to be instrumental in championing Thomas for the Supreme Court.

In 1981, he joined the Reagan administration. From 1981 to 1982, he served as Assistant Secretary of Education for the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education. From 1982 to 1990 he was Chairman of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Newsweek characterized Thomas as "openly ambitious for higher office" during his tenure at the EEOC. As Chairman, he promoted a doctrine of self-reliance, and halted the usual EEOC approach of filing class-action discrimination lawsuits, instead pursuing specific acts of individual discrimination. He also asserted in 1984 that black leaders were "watching the destruction of our race" as they "bitch, bitch, bitch" about President Reagan instead of working with the Reagan administration to alleviate teenage pregnancy, unemployment and illiteracy.

In June 1989, President George H. W. Bush appointed Thomas to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, despite Thomas's initial protestations that he would not like to be a judge. Thomas gained the support of other African-Americans such as former Transportation Secretary William Coleman, but said that when meeting white Democratic staffers in the United States Senate, he was "struck by how easy it had become for sanctimonious whites to accuse a black man of not caring about civil rights."

On July 1, 1991 President Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to replace Thurgood Marshall, who had recently announced his retirement. Legal author Jeffrey Toobin says Bush and others saw Thomas as "pretty much" the only qualified black candidate who would be a reliable conservative vote.

Upon his appointment, following a hotly debated confirmation process, Thomas was generally perceived as joining the conservative wing of the Court, voting most frequently with Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Scalia. Though he was immediately welcomed by most Justices, including Marshall, whom he was replacing, law clerks of some liberal justices viewed Thomas with contempt, questioning his qualifications and intellectual heft. Some observers portrayed Thomas as Antonin Scalia's understudy while others thought the opposite was true and that more often Scalia changed his mind to agree with Thomas. It was also suggested that the forcefulness of Thomas's views pushed Justices Souter, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Anthony Kennedy away.¹

Clarence Thomas Quotes

"A good argument diluted to avoid criticism is not nearly as good as the undiluted argument, because we best arrive at truth through a process of honest and vigorous debate. Arguments should not sneak around in disguise, as if dissent were somehow sinister."

"Government cannot make us equal; it can only recognize, respect, and protect us as equal before the law."

"I don't believe in quotas. America was founded on a philosophy of individual rights, not group rights."

"I think segregation is bad, I think it's wrong, it's immoral. I'd fight against it with every breath in my body, but you don't need to sit next to a white person to learn how to read and write. The NAACP needs to say that."

"Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot."

Noteworthy Sites

¹ Clarence Thomas - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Books on Clarence Thomas
Books on The Supreme Court
All Supreme Court Posters & Prints
Clarence Thomas Biographical Profile


"An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest." ~ Benjamin Franklin

read more

If you would like to read more about history, The Chief Justices and the presidents, visit our history bookstore.

 worth a thousand words

Bring history and education to life with posters and art prints in the following categories:

U.S. Presidents

"To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting." ~ Edmund Burke