JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, it wasn’t so much now. I made the decision, actually, some years ago. When my brother died almost eight years ago, I realized that of the four of us who were in the house, I was the last one left. My grandparents died in the early eighties, as I record in the book, and it was a real tragedy and a shock to have your younger sibling suddenly die while jogging. I decided that there was something about our lives and the way that my grandparents had affected me, and what they had done in our lives, that others could use that would be important to them, or possibly important. And I thought it would be very, very helpful. There was another reason, also. I rarely say anything publicly; and as a result, there’s been a bit of a monopoly, or oligopoly, with respect to what’s said about our lives. So much of it has been wrong, some of it malicious.
RUSH: Whose lives, you and the justices, or you and the wives?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Actually, I’m speaking more of my grandparents —
JUSTICE THOMAS: — and my brother, and me in particular. It wasn’t accurate, and I thought it would be good to leave an accurate record. But, by and large, the most motivating aspect of, reason for doing it, was the possibility that there would be something in it that would be helpful to others.
RUSH: So that’s what you want readers to get out of the book?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, I want them to… I think that not only accuracy and to know more about how I came to be who I am, and hopefully find something in it that would be useful to them.
RUSH: All right. Well, let’s start early on, then. Why did you go live with your grandparents?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, it was a rather simple story. You know, back in those days, if your mother couldn’t take care of you, and your father wasn’t around, the option was — the only option — to go live with someone who could help you. And, in my case, as my mother likes to say, she earned about ten dollars a week as a maid — actually it was $15, and that included car fare, which comes to about ten bucks a week — and she couldn’t raise us herself for a variety of reasons. So she asked her father to do it, and in 1955 she put all of our belongings in a paper bag, each, and sent us to live with our grandparents.
RUSH: What kind of people were your grandparents?
JUSTICE THOMAS: They were, I think, the kind of people who made this country great. They were good, solid people. They came from very little. My grandfather could barely read. My grandmother had a sixth-grade education. They were people who were industrious. They were frugal. (Laughing.) As he used to tell us, ‘The reason we have is because we don’t spend and we don’t throw away, and because we work,’ and so they were basically the embodiment of the Protestant work ethic.
RUSH: And they lived in a segregated world, correct?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Oh, yeah. They lived in the South.
RUSH: You just said they had little or no education. How did they manage, just on their own amongst themselves, even before you all showed up?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Oh, they managed very well. My grandfather, as I said, was industrious. He’d had a variety of jobs and decided sometime in the 1940s that he would never work for anyone. He was also a very independent man. He started cutting wood and then delivering it for fuel, and added coal, and, eventually, he added fuel oil, and when we went to live with him — and he also added, by the way, ice. But when we went to live with him, he was just delivering ice and fuel oil, and then we became, of course, his employees, and then we farmed during the summer.
RUSH: Now, I’ve heard it said, Mr. Justice Thomas, that he was harsh, that he was very strict, sometimes mean with you. Is that accurate?
JUSTICE THOMAS: No. That’s why…
RUSH: So it’s one of the many things going around about your story that’s not true?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Exactly. There’s a difference between someone who’s ‘harsh’ and someone who is ‘hard.’ Life was hard. You lived in the South, as my grandparents did, and you had to survive. That is hard. In order to respond to that, he had to become a hard man, with very hard rules, very hard discipline for himself, very hard days, hard work, et cetera. So, yes, he was a hard man, but he was never harsh to my brother or me, and he was very, very demanding. But that is quite different from being harsh.
RUSH: Demanding because he had high expectations of you?
JUSTICE THOMAS: He had high expectations. One of the things he said, Rush, when we went to live with him, he said, ‘Boys, I will never tell you to do as I say. I will always tell you to do as I do.’ So in order to be able to use that as his method of raising us, he put high standards and high expectations on himself first; and then we, by extension, had high expectations imposed on us.
RUSH: Do you know whether or not he had any resentment when your mother called and asked him to take you and your brothers?
JUSTICE THOMAS: No, he had none. My grandfather was a man, when he talked about freedom, his attitude was really interesting. His view was that you had obligations or you had responsibilities, and when you fulfilled those obligations or responsibilities, that then gave you the liberty to do other things. So the freedoms that we talk about today, the liberties that we talk about today were the benefits that you got from discharging your responsibilities. So in our case, it was his responsibility to raise us, and that’s what he did.
RUSH: You’ve given him an appropriate tribute here. But at any time when you were younger and living with him, with his rules and his methods, did you like them? Did you rebel?
JUSTICE THOMAS: (laughing) Oh, I didn’t like them at all! You know, I was a kid, and he wanted you to work, and there was no end to the list of things he wanted you to do. You’d come home from school. We had to be home a half an hour after school was out and ready to go to work. He had an endless list of things to do. Well, what you want to do is you want to play with your friends, and he would have very little to do with that. Or you wanted to play team sports. He thought that that was foolishness. So yes, you did bristle under it, and you didn’t like it, and you did not want to work, but you had no choice.
RUSH: In a segregated part of the country, then, how did he deal with you and your brothers in teaching you or informing you about race and what you faced in your future as a result of being African-American?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, it was a reality. I mean, you saw it around you. Those were the days when you didn’t have to look hard to find discrimination. You could look at a water fountain and see that it said ‘White’ and ‘Colored’ or the fact that there was no bathroom or you couldn’t go to the Savannah public library; you could go to the black library. So it was obvious. I think the important part was he taught us how to deal with difficult situations that, even though it was bad, there was a way we had to conduct ourselves in spite of that, and you also had to prepare yourself to deal with a world that wasn’t going to be accommodating. In other words, if you look back, you see opportunities in life that still exist, even though things look bad, and he was trying to prepare us to be able to deal with the adversity and to take advantage of whatever opportunities existed.
RUSH: The racial aspect, as it related to you: Was there any bitterness on your part, growing up at that young age?
JUSTICE THOMAS: The quick answer to that is no. You recognized it, but you’re a kid. You ran, you played, you had your neighborhood, and, most of all, the only bitterness — or what you thought was bitterness — was you didn’t want to have to work all the time. You wanted to play basketball or play with your friends. But, as far as the racial issue, it was there, and it wasn’t something that you could ignore. But the strongest statements about race actually came from the nuns, who would have nothing to do with this notion that we were somehow so different that we could be treated differently because of race. Their attitude —
RUSH: Go ahead and finish. I want to get into the seminary question. In fact, let me take a break right now because it’s time to do that, and I want to get into the seminary question because I’m curious about the decision that made you go there. We’re talking with Associate Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court about his new memoir, My Grandfather’s Son. We’ll be right back and continue after this.
RUSH: Welcome back, folks. Again, we’re talking with Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, and his memoir out today, My Grandfather’s Son. Right before the previous break, you discussed the nuns, and I wanted to ask you: How old were you when you entered the seminary? What year was that, and why did you decide to do that?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, actually, the year was 1964, Rush. When I made the decision in the spring of 1964, I was 15 years old, and when I entered the seminary, I was 16. I’d just turned 16 that summer. Well, the reason I did it had to do with the natural progression of altar boys, and I was an altar boy and was very active in our church, St. Benedict’s in Savannah, and the natural progression was that you went into the minor seminary and then later on to the major seminary. So it was a natural progression. I had gone out there for an event. I saw St. John Vianney Minor Seminary. I’d always thought I had a bit of a vocation. Actually, I thought it would be with the Maryknolls, and I talked to my grandfather about it.
RUSH: How many black kids were there with you?
JUSTICE THOMAS: My first year, the ’64-65 school year, there was another student, a black student, a year behind me. I went in as a sophomore in high school. There was another black student there, and he left after the first year, and for the next two years, from ’65 through ’67, I was the only black student there.
RUSH: What was it that you started to say before I, as host, rudely interrupted you about the nuns?
JUSTICE THOMAS: (chuckles) Well, actually, the nuns were a bit earlier. They were in grammar school, and I was in segregated Catholic schools: St. Benedict’s, until the eighth grade, and then St. Pius X High School through the tenth grade, and then repeated the tenth grade in seminary. But one of the things that the nuns made clear from the first day was that we were all created equal. So from the standpoint of race, whites were no better or no different from us in God’s eyes. So that was something that was reinforced at home and it was something that we held onto. So from the racial standpoint, the clarity of that message always was preeminent in our lives, both at home and in our church.
RUSH: Now, people are going to have a tough time believing this. You taught yourself algebra one summer.
JUSTICE THOMAS: (laughing)
RUSH: Now, you just got through telling us you wanted to play and you wanted to run around and play basketball. What in the world was it that inspired you to want to teach yourself algebra, and how did you know that what you were teaching yourself was right?
JUSTICE THOMAS: (laughing) The answers were in the back of the book.
JUSTICE THOMAS: (laughing) Yeah. Well, actually, it was a little more complicated than that. When I went into the seminary, I was one of those victims of New Math and had not had Algebra I and had no idea what we were doing in New Math in the ninth grade. But when I went into the seminary, they had gone the traditional route and taught first-year algebra. So my classmates had first-year algebra; but when I arrived, I had not had it. So the head of the school, before our junior year in high school, said, ‘We’re going to have second-year algebra.’
I said, ‘But I haven’t had first-year algebra.’
He said, ‘We’re going to have second-year algebra.’
So, necessity being the mother of invention — or certainly something — an impetus to go get your work done, that summer, when we had our breaks on the farm in the middle of the day, I began to teach myself algebra and was able to teach myself most of the Algebra I material by the end of the summer.
RUSH: Do you know what would happen in that circumstance today? If you walked into a second-year algebra course and told the teacher, ‘Well, I haven’t learned first-year algebra yet’? The kids that had learned it would have to take it over again with you so that you wouldn’t be humiliated.
JUSTICE THOMAS: Oh, I think you would be humiliated. (laughing)
RUSH: I’ve listened to you describe your education and the teacher saying, ‘We’re taking second-year algebra.’ This is not done today. And your grandfather, with the rules and his high expectations of you, all of this is profoundly inspiring, which is exactly why I’m happy you’re here today, because these are the things that people don’t know about you. All of this sounds like a pure recipe, Mr. Justice Thomas, of being really devoted to yourself. You had some great role models, your grandfather especially. You came from a background that was…Well, I use the word ‘unfair.’ It was just unfortunate, but you don’t seem to have allowed any of it to be an excuse for not being the best you could be.
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, Rush, when I left for the seminary — again, I’m 16, and my grandfather is very clear with me. He made me vow that I wouldn’t quit the seminary, and that’s something I did do later on.
RUSH: How did he react to that?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, not very well. The thing he said when I left, understanding that I would be there for the first time, or first member of our household among whites, he said, ‘Boy, don’t shame me, and don’t shame the race.’ So there was this obligation that you had to do well, because we had lived with this assumption that if we had an opportunity, we could always — and I mean always — do as well as our white counterparts in similar circumstances. So there was always this obligation on me to perform well. You can talk about it, you can talk a good game, but when you took an algebra test or when you took a physics or a chemistry test, the proof was always in the pudding. Now, with respect to the unfortunate circumstances, I actually think that I have been fortunate to have had misfortune, because the response, in responding to the misfortune, you develop in your own life, you develop sort of the tools you need to continue on, or to do better. And, yes, it was tough, it was difficult at the time, and maybe there was a little bit of self-pity from time to time; but as a result of those misfortunes, I think I have been able to develop in a way more character traits that have been helpful.
RUSH: Exactly. Sort of like the saying, ‘Without struggle, there’s no purpose.’
JUSTICE THOMAS: Yeah.
RUSH: You clearly had struggle. Your grandfather threw you out of the house, right, when you told him this?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, when I returned, I got very upset in the seminary for racial reasons and returned in 1968. I quit after —
RUSH: Is that why…? The racial reasons are why you quit?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Oh, yes. Those were the primary reasons. I was very upset, and I quit in a huff in 1968 after Dr. King was assassinated, and went home, and the next day, of course, my grandfather kicked me out of the house. I was 19 at the time, and I’ve been on my own ever since.
RUSH: At nineteen you got kicked out of the house. Were you upset with him? What did you do?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, he was upset because I had broken a promise. He’d exacted a promise from me to not leave the seminary, and I had done just that. And he felt, as he said, that if I was going to make decisions like a man, then I should live like a man and that day I was to leave his house. Yes, he was upset with me, and I, in turn, was very, very upset with him —
RUSH: Were you ashamed?
JUSTICE THOMAS: — and in particular —
RUSH: Were you ashamed?
JUSTICE THOMAS: No, I was too self-centered to be ashamed. (chuckles) I thought I was justified in both my decision to leave the seminary and in my anger and animus toward, then, my Catholic faith and toward others.
RUSH: That’s Justice Clarence Thomas, and we will be back and continue as we roll into some other areas, the court, and his later life after this. Stay with us.
RUSH: Welcome back, folks, once again to the EIB Network. Rush Limbaugh with the privilege of talking today with Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas about his new book, a memoir, My Grandfather’s Son. All right, let’s move forward just a little bit. You end up going to Holy Cross after quitting the seminary and being kicked out of your grandfather’s house. Were you recruited?
JUSTICE THOMAS: No, I wasn’t. Actually, it was serendipity. My chemistry teacher from the seminary had asked me, Sister Mary Carmen, had asked me to apply to Holy Cross when she learned I was thinking of leaving the seminary, and I refused. She knew I had always been a very, very good student, so that she figured there would be no problem for me to go to Holy Cross. Well, I wasn’t really interested. I was going to go to Savannah State or someplace near home. She had someone send me an application, a friend of mine who had been at Holy Cross, and out of respect for her and him, I filled it out, and I was accepted. So after my grandfather had so quickly kicked me out of the house, I had no choices but to go to Holy Cross. I was accepted there. They worked out financial aid, a work-study, loan, and some grant, and I went there. But it was total serendipity — or, actually, I think it was more providential than anything else.
RUSH: You became a radical. I know this from stories you’ve told me. But the audience would be fascinated to understand and learn how you became a radical, because that’s the one thing people wouldn’t associate with you today.
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, I think in that era, in the late 1960s, if you were a young, black male, and you saw what was happening around our society in the race area, it was not uncommon to become angry and to feel that the sort of quiet way that you had lived your life, and the way that my grandparents had lived theirs, that it was too little a response to such a clear immorality of racism. It was the era of black pride and the era of black power, and you got caught up in that, and it felt liberating. You felt finally able to respond in a way consistent with an appropriate way. And so, like so many young blacks of that era, I became, at least self-described, ‘a radical’ and got involved in a lot of marches and protests; and I actually felt quite justified in doing so.
RUSH: How long were you a radical, because I know you stopped being one. When did you rethink that?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, actually, I started rethinking it shortly after I started it. When I got to Holy Cross, I was involved in so many things. I got there in the fall of 1968, and in the spring of 1970 I was involved in a disturbance to free political prisoners in Cambridge. It was in April, mid-April 1970, and after I returned, I was very shaken by what I had just done. I was out of control and felt being almost manipulated by others with larger agendas. I got back to Holy Cross campus in the wee hours of the morning, and I was in front of the chapel there on my way to breakfast, and I asked God to take the anger out of my heart and if He took it out of my heart, I would never hate again — and that was the beginning of the process of trying to be far more constructive in my life and to do positive things as opposed to trying to harm others in this self-justified way.
RUSH: Now, you ended up, eventually, at Yale. Before you tell me how you liked it at Yale, there’s something that I want to put on the table for you to deal with on the program, as you have in the book. One of the raps against you, one of the big criticisms of you has been that you used all of the prescriptions of affirmative action to get to Yale and any other places you went thereafter, but that you took the ladder with you once you got there and —
JUSTICE THOMAS: (chuckles)
RUSH: — you denied it to anybody else. Now, is it true, once and for all, that you got into Yale because of affirmative action?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Oh, well, they didn’t call it that back then. It’s kind of interesting. What I attempt to deal with in the book is those of us who went to school back then, and certainly only Yale in my case, the program they had at the time, they called it ‘preferential treatment.’ It was kind of odd, because at the time, Yale claimed that it was accepting us on merit. They’d had, apparently, some difficulties, and the way I applied was the way I had applied to every place else, and that was: I came from where I came from. Earlier in the interview, you’d said that I’d had this misfortune, and that’s what I basically said. I had overcome those odds and done extremely well at St. John Vianney Minor Seminary, done extremely well at Immaculate Conception Seminary, and then at Holy Cross. And my hope was to have the same opportunity to do extremely well at Yale. And when I was accepted, I thought it was on those circumstances; but then later on — and I did fine at Yale — but later on, all of that was converted into race, and what I blame myself for is that I should have seen that coming. If I had —
RUSH: Who converted it into race? Your enemies?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, no.
RUSH: Did Yale say it?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Yale never said it when I was there. What happened was, when I attempted to get a job after Yale, it was clear from the law firms that their assumption was that I had no business at Yale. So I could not get a job after Yale Law School. I tried Atlanta; I tried New York; I tried Washington, DC. And the reason I wound up in Jefferson City is the only person who would look me in the eye and say that he would give me an opportunity, the same opportunity as anybody else to do my best, was then-Attorney General Danforth. As a result of that, I wound up in Jefferson City, Missouri.
RUSH: So the criticism here that you, in your later life, somehow oppose affirmative action and thus deny other minority students the advantages or the opportunities you had, is not true?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Oh, absolutely not. One of the things that we were all for, even then, was to help disadvantaged kids. I mean, who’s against that? You know, I don’t care what color you are — the white kid from Appalachia, the Hispanic kid, the mixed-race kids. I don’t make those false distinctions and have never made those sorts of distinctions. You help kids in the places that they are if they’re suffering from disadvantage. How many kids, for example, at Yale grew up in the same circumstances that I did? How many of them would have done as well under the same circumstances? Our point was that there were things that we learned, going through that misfortune and getting ourselves out, that were intangible and that would go on and allow us to do well in life. Well, I’ve proven that to be true, or demonstrated that. That was my grandfather’s point, and rather than sort of make it all racial, just simply say, ‘Look, give these kids a chance and see how well they do. Let them perform.’ In your business, you often talk about the fact that you’ve had all these jobs and so many people thought you weren’t going to do well. But, individually, you got out there, you worked hard, you had opportunities, you took full advantage of them, and, voila! You’re the star you are. Well, there are kids in that same position, and it doesn’t have to be based on race. I think virtually any fair-minded person understands that. What I attempt to do in my own life, Rush, is to help others — no matter what their race is, no matter what their sex is — who are having difficulty, other people who are demonstrating that they want to do well and, if given a chance, they will do well. But that’s individual to individual.
RUSH: You know, many people are unaware of your writings on the Supreme Court because most Americans probably don’t have the time or inclination to read opinions, and that would be both the dissent and the affirmative opinions and so forth. But I read yours, and they’re remarkably simple to understand. You just talked about liking and enjoying very much working with young kids who need help. You have spent a lot of time trying to explain things to kids who are illiterate. Now, that has probably helped you be able, in your life, to take the complex and make it understandable, and you even apply that in your writings on the court.
JUSTICE THOMAS: I think so often, Rush, when we get in these positions, we tend to condescend to the rest of the population and our fellow citizens. I don’t do that. I grew up in circumstances that weren’t the best economically or the best educationally for the people around me. I never went back home and condescended to them. They are my family; they’re my neighbors; they’re human beings. So what I try to do — every day, wherever I am — is to look at that person, no matter what they’re doing, and to see a fellow human being. So, in writing opinions, you are trying to take something, if it’s complicated, you’re trying to explain it in a way that as many people as possible can understand it. You’re making their Constitution and their laws accessible to them. We talk about ‘accessibility’ in terms of people with, say, disabilities in a wheelchair where a curb is like the Great Wall of China if someone is in a wheelchair. Well, you can use language and writing about the court or about the Constitution that sort of puts a Great Wall of China between them and their Constitution. My idea is simply to be able to explain it to all of my fellow citizens.
RUSH: We’re speaking with Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, about his memoir, My Grandfather’s Son, and we’ve got more. Coming up right after this, I’m going to ask him about the confirmation process. Don’t go away.
RUSH: Welcome back, folks, to the EIB Network and El Rushbo. We are talking with Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, about his new book — a memoir, it is — My Grandfather’s Son. I have to know this. I want people to hear it, and I waited until you had set the table with this brief biography of your life to ask this question: How did you and Ginni get through your confirmation process? Because that had to be one of the toughest survival experiences of your life, and people should know this. You went through that. Most people cannot possibly relate to what that was like, even though they had hardships. That was televised; the allegations made against you. The thing that I’ve noticed — I’m not sucking up here — I want people to notice this: The thing I’ve noticed is, I don’t hear any bitterness today about anything that’s happened or been said about you. I don’t hear, any time I’ve been with you, no bitterness whatsoever, and I haven’t heard lingering bitterness over this. But I still am curious how in the world you got through this.
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, first of all, Rush, I don’t really have the luxury to be bitter. I don’t have the luxury of having negative things in my life. When you are trying to do your best, you don’t have that support from or backup or insurance from your family or from those around you who can sort of help you compensate or make up for your mistakes, you don’t have the luxury of having those sorts of negative things in your life. With respect to my wife — and my wife’s my best friend in the whole world — we’d only been married four years when we went through the confirmation. She was 34, and I was 43 years old. Neither of us had ever been treated like that in our lives, and to be honest with you, no one had seen a precedent for that before, or since. Ultimately, we realized that it was something that she and I, with God and our prayer partners, would have to work through. We saw it as spiritual warfare, and we treated it that way. So most of our time was actually spent together, she and I from time to time actually on a daily basis, our prayer partners always in prayer or surrounded by music, religious music, and hoping and praying that we could survive this and that it would turn out okay.
RUSH: At what point did you decide to get aggressive in your own defense? I remember, very vividly, a description of the whole process as ‘a high-tech lynching’ and Kafkaesque. That had to be strategically planned for the right time to do it. When did you come up with that idea?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, I never really did, Rush. (laughing) I didn’t plan anything.
RUSH: You were just reacting, then, to what was happening to you?
JUSTICE THOMAS: I never really wanted to be on the court. I don’t like Washington. When the president asked me… Just like my call to become a priest, my vocation, I think when the president asks you to do something, you should do it. Now, most people would say, ‘But it’s the Supreme Court.’ Well, maybe they are interested in it as a personal bit of ambition, but I was not. So it wasn’t something I was trying to get. It wasn’t a prize. What was important to me was that my family… I mean, I don’t have a whole lot. I had my good name — and I was too prideful about that, I will admit. But my grandparents had cobbled together this life. They had never been bitter. They weren’t upset with anybody. They got these two little boys; they raised them; they were law-abiding; they were religious people; they were frugal; they were hard working. And they made us work; they made us adopt those things. And, here, for no reasons other than people disagreed with me, or they thought that a black person shouldn’t particularly have these views, they were going to set upon me and undermine, or destroy the little bit we had cobbled together. At some point, I think, you are obligated to stand and defend that, to defend the honor — and I think I would have shamed my grandfather if I had not stood up and defended what he had given us and defended the legacy he left us to provide for ourselves and for our kids.
RUSH: Well, I know exactly why they opposed you, and I know exactly why they tried to destroy you, and I also am going to mention this in our next segment — which, by the way, will set a record, Mr. Justice Thomas.
JUSTICE THOMAS: (chuckles)
RUSH: No guest has ever gone longer than one hour on this program. You are the first.
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, thank you.
RUSH: Well, it’s our honor and privilege. We have a little less than a minute here, but I need to ask you: You said you didn’t like Washington. You don’t like it. You never thought of the court. You did it in accepting the honor and the request of the president. I have about 30 seconds here. Do you see yourself as being on the court as the pinnacle of your profession?
JUSTICE THOMAS: I don’t see it that way. I am honored to be a part of defending what we think is the best country in the world, the best Constitution in the world, and I’m honored to be in this role for my fellow citizens, and I can’t complain about it in any way.
RUSH: I can’t wait to comment on this when we get back — and we will be back, folks, shortly after our top-of-the-hour break. One more segment at least with Mr. Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Be right back. Don’t go away.
RUSH: Greetings and welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. It’s great to have you with us on the Excellence in Broadcasting Network. We continue our discussion here today with the Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Clarence Thomas, about his memoir, his new book, My Grandfather’s Son. I mentioned right before the previous hour concluded, I evolved a theory back during your confirmation process — and I think I’m right about this, and I made a big deal about it: I asked you if you thought that you were at the pinnacle of your profession as an Associate Justice on the court. You said you don’t look at it that way, at all. You have a much more humble approach to what it means to sit on the US Supreme Court. But others, who were threatened by your nomination and your confirmation, looked at you, Mr. Justice Thomas, as the biggest threat to the existing civil rights coalition prescription for minority success in this country today because you did not follow their route. You did not go through the appropriate civil rights leaders to be anointed and granted permission to move on and do so in their image and in their ways, and, as such, you on the Supreme Court would provide — and this book is doing it, this interview today is doing it, your 60 Minutes last night — America is seeing you as they’ve never seen you. They’re seeing you exactly as the civil rights coalition feared from the first day of your nomination that you would be seen: a genuine, humble human being who has become, in their fearful view, the way they look at you is, you are now the most powerful African-American man in the country, and you have shown that it can be done without them. Now, I’m not asking you to take potshots at them with this observation and the question, but I wanted to share with the audience my view of why you were so contentiously, rudely, in a slanderous way, opposed. Now, do you have — and I know the answer to the question, based on things you’ve said already — but when you get to the Supreme Court every day, you get to your chambers and it’s time for oral arguments, you look around you, it has to have permeated at some point that you are one of a precious few human beings who has ever worked as a justice in that building. At some point you… I don’t know if you were ever in awe of it and had to get past that, or did you just step right into it?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, first, Rush, the job itself was certainly something I never thought that would be a problem to do. It never occurred to me I wouldn’t be able to decide the cases.
RUSH: You never thought it would be too hard a job?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Oh, no. No. It’s been a long trip from Pinpoint to here; and along the way, you learn lessons that people who have a much easier path never learn. So it was not something that I thought would be too difficult to do. When I first got to the court, Justice Powell was still there, and, of course, he had retired and was still in the court itself, and he had a conversation with me during one of our many chats, and he said that, ‘Once you think that you belong at the court, it’s time for you to leave.’ I agree with that. I think that in these jobs, you have to remember that the job, the Constitution, the work we do is important, but we’re just human beings. That was the attitude that Justice White had and so many of those who went before me. I think humility is very important in doing these jobs. It’s not about us. I keep on the wall in my office — and my favorite prayer is — The Litany of Humility. You really don’t want to get caught up in what people say, negative or positive. You’re there, you took an oath, and, as I said to my clerks, ‘I took an oath to God, not an oath to be God.’ We’re there to do our jobs as judges. I’m a judge. I have a limited role, and I stick within that role.
RUSH: Could you describe it? What is that role? In your view of your role as a judge, a justice, what is that?
JUSTICE THOMAS: My role is to interpret the Constitution, when it’s a constitutional case and a case or controversy. It’s to interpret a statute. It is not to impose my policy views or my personal views on your Constitution, our Constitution, or on your laws. It’s not my private preserve to work out these theories, and I guard very, very diligently against doing that. I think a part of being able to stay within the confines of that limited role, one has to be humble about one’s — a judge has to be humble about his — own approach and what his capacities are. Before I start the term, and certainly in many, many cases, I had a little prayer that I used to say years ago when I was at EEOC: ‘Lord, grant me the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do it.’ So I also think that, in addition to wisdom or humility, you need the courage to do what is right. If the answer is something that is difficult or that will lead to criticism, you still have to do it, if it’s right. It’s your oath. So that’s, in a nutshell, my approach to the job.
RUSH: What would you do if you weren’t a judge? Other than being a judge, what would you like to do?
JUSTICE THOMAS: (laughing) Oh, goodness. My wife always sort of has problems when I answer questions like that, because what I’d like to do is a little bit different —
RUSH: Well, is she there?
JUSTICE THOMAS: No, she’s not.
RUSH: Well, then go ahead and answer it!
JUSTICE THOMAS: (laughing) I would like to run a small- or medium-size business in a small community. That would be sort of the more top-end of the options. I’d like to be a coach. I would love to know enough football or basketball to coach teams, and my one dream job was to be a truck driver. I still have that in my system. I love being around tractor-trailers, 18-wheelers. I love working on large vehicles, driving them. Maybe that goes back to delivering fuel oil and working on the farm. But I love being around people who work with their hands, who do the hard things to keep our country going. They’re just my kind of people.
RUSH: That is a great point to make. You have this huge bus.
JUSTICE THOMAS: (laughing) That’s right.
RUSH: It’s an RV, right?
JUSTICE THOMAS: It’s not an RV. It’s a motorcoach.
RUSH: Sorry! Sorry! I didn’t mean to be insulting.
JUSTICE THOMAS: (laughing)
RUSH: I understand RV can be insulting. Okay, so it’s a motorcoach. He’s got a bus, folks. He drives the bus around. He loves to drive the bus. Now, obviously, you meet all kinds of people wherever you go. You’ve got a huge wingspan. I saw you at Lincoln, Nebraska, in the middle of the month for USC-Nebraska. I saw you in the end zone, and it didn’t matter what color the fans were; everybody was applauding you and liking you. You are not an elitist. What’s it like when you get out there amongst the people?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Oh, I love it.
RUSH: In your bus.
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, I love it. I love being there. Whether it’s a football game — I bleed Cornhusker red, as you know, and I’ve been there. I talk to the players. I love the players. I love the people out there, the people I meet in the RV parks. That’s how I got into it. Someone told me the best people in the country, or some of the best people in the country, are in the RV parks. I meet them at truck stops, rest stops. Those are my kind of people. These are the people who do the heavy work, the hard work in our society. They’re the people who teach the kids; they’re our policemen, our firemen; they’re the people who work in the manufacturing facilities; they’re our salespeople; they’re all the good people, and you have an opportunity to be with people who are like you. You’re not looking down on them; you’re just enjoying the country with them, and it’s been very, very interesting over the eight years that I’ve had my bus, and it’s probably not, from a financial standpoint, a good idea. But, boy, it’s been priceless in getting me out among my fellow citizens.
RUSH: Now, does that impact your work?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Oh, I can work from anyplace now. Thank God for technology.
RUSH: No, I’m sorry. I meant meeting the people who make the country work. Does it impact your work?
JUSTICE THOMAS: It reaffirms my work. It makes me understand better why I do it the way I do. I know who I’m doing it for. You know, I had a chance, Rush, to talk to some wounded veterans from Iraq, these young kids. And they’re just, you know, serious wounds, you know, amputations, et cetera. And they were thanking me for spending time with them, and I was so ashamed. I spent a few hours with them. They actually had suffered major wounds to uphold what we believe in in this country, the kind of country we have, the Constitution. I’ve suffered no wounds. People say, ‘Well, you had a tough confirmation.’ I have no wounds. I have my arms; I have my sight. They’ve given so much more in defense of liberty than I could ever hope to give. Yes, I love being out among them, the people who fought our wars, the people who protect us, the people who give us our electricity. It gives me… It reaffirms the way I write the opinions so they can read them. One gentleman came up to me, and he said, ‘Thank you for writing your opinion,’ and I can’t remember the case.
I said, ‘Why are you reading it?’
He said, ‘I’m not a lawyer, but you gave me access to our Constitution.’
That’s why I write it that way, and it’s for these people that I try to be humble in interpreting their Constitution.
RUSH: You know, I’ve met some of those same people. National Review had their 50th Anniversary, big gala party somewhere in Washington, in one of those typical Washington buildings.
JUSTICE THOMAS: Mmm-hmm.
RUSH: And they had eight wounded vets as their guests from Walter Reed. One of them came up to me and said something similar, thanked me for all I was doing. I felt two inches tall.
JUSTICE THOMAS: Mmm-hmm.
RUSH: This guy was missing an eye; he’d lost an arm. I just said to him, ‘I can’t believe you’re saying this to me.’ He shut me up. And he said, ‘No, no, no. We all have our role.’
JUSTICE THOMAS: Yeah.
RUSH: They know of you, too. They are special people.
JUSTICE THOMAS: Yeah.
RUSH: You know, they really are. Look, I could say a couple more quick things, if you can hang on. If you have to go, you just say so, but I have just a couple more things before we wrap up. You’ll set another record, not just longer than an hour, but close to an hour and a half.
JUSTICE THOMAS: (laughing)
RUSH: Justice Clarence Thomas. He didn’t say ‘no,’ so we’re going to say he’ll be back after this break.
JUSTICE THOMAS: Oh, I’m fine, Rush.
RUSH: Don’t go away.
RUSH: The program rolls on, ladies and gentlemen, the fastest three hours in media. Justice Clarence Thomas with us, our final segment here, talking with him about lots of things, including his book, just out today: My Grandfather’s Son. Mr. Justice Thomas, I’ve read the book, and you’ve been very open in this book. You really haven’t hidden anything. You’ve been open about your marriage dissolution, the financial strains you’ve gone through, the emotional, tough times. You know, some people don’t include those kinds of details, even in an autobiography. Why did you decide to?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, at the beginning of this interview, Rush, you asked me why I wrote the book. One of the reasons or the primary reason for me, would be that there might be something in there that inspires others who are going through challenges in their lives. They may be going through some of the same things or similar things. In order to be able to do that, you’ve gotta be honest about your own struggles, your own insecurities, your own misfortunes, not in a whiny way, but at least in a candid way so that they can see you’re not somehow on Mount Olympus. You’re just like them. You have all the same problems. Maybe, in doing that, they can find something in that book that says, ‘It’s going to be okay.’ I was at a law school some time ago, a short time ago, and a young woman came up to me after a long question-and-answer session. She had been crying during the time that we’d spent, the two hours or so, and she said, ‘Thank you, because what you have said by showing that you couldn’t get a job; you had financial difficulties; you had doubts, you have encouraged me to continue on with the problems that I have. You have inspired me.’ I think it’s very difficult to inspire people if they have a view of you that you’ve never walked in their shoes. So I think it is important to be honest with people that we’re not superhuman; we are normal human beings. And to do that, I had to talk about some very, very difficult times in my own life.
RUSH: Speaking of those, you said earlier that neither you nor your wife had ever been treated the way you were treated during your confirmation process, so I’m assuming that that was the most difficult point of your life. Would I be right or wrong?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Ummm…
RUSH: If I’m wrong, say so.
JUSTICE THOMAS: I don’t want to do that because you have a record for being right.
RUSH: (laughing) That can withstand being wrong now and then.
JUSTICE THOMAS: (laughing) I think that would be a good conclusion to draw from what you saw, but it’s not the most difficult time in my life. The most difficult time was actually the death of my grandparents.
RUSH: And I have to ask… I mean, we all know the difficulty of losing family, especially in your case, your grandparents, but of all the things that have happened to you, why was that the most difficult to see through, when you know that death happens?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, I think we know that it happens, but we somehow think it won’t happen then, that we’ll have time. I think the fact that — well, I know the fact that — I had been so alienated from my grandfather for so long and allowed so much to come between us and to take little things and make them into large chasms between us, there was a lot of regret, Rush, when he died. We had, a few months earlier, looked each other in the eye and realized the source of our differences had so much to do with the fact, as so many others had told both of us, that I was just like him, and when we said that to each other, we embraced for the only time in our lives, and the next… I would never see him alive again. So what you had was not just death, but this possibility of reuniting that never really occurred simply because of the chasm that had grown between us. So there was a possibility of what could have been, in addition to that, and regret and remorse and all those sorts of things.
RUSH: But you feel —
JUSTICE THOMAS: And then my grand —
RUSH: Go ahead.
JUSTICE THOMAS: And then my grandmother died one month later.
RUSH: You know, don’t you, that they ended up being proud as they could be of you?
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, Rush, the way I do my job — and I decided in 1983 to live my life as a memorial to theirs, and that goes to the portion of my life that you thought was the most difficult: the hearings. I saw that as a desecration of all I had to give them. It was similar to going into the seminary where he said, ‘Don’t shame me.’ Well, this is the other side of it, where I was giving something; I was saying that it was worth all the effort. It was worth your sacrifice. It was worth taking these two boys, and I saw that as a desecration of the little I had to give them. Afterwards, of course, I just simply said I would start all over and try to build a new memorial. The way that I do my job is I try to do it to memorialize the good that they have done, to say, ‘It was all worth it.’ My hope would be that, if I saw my grandfather again, I could look him in the eye and say that I’ve done my best and that he would possibly say to me, not so much that you’re on the Supreme Court, but that you’re doing a good job on the court.
RUSH: He no doubt knows. He no doubt watches. Well, I have about 45 seconds here, which is obviously not enough time for another question, but I wish we could have the time. I’m so glad that you wrote the book, if I may get personal here for a moment, and I’m so happy that you’re doing the interview rounds, because those of us that know you and are privileged to know you and love you, know a man that we wish everybody knew as we do. So thank you so much for spending this time with me today on the program, I know everybody appreciates it, and all the best with this project and the new term on the court.
JUSTICE THOMAS: Thank you, Rush.
RUSH: Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
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