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12/12/2020

Mark Pulliam on Justice Thomas
Michael Ramsey

At Law & Liberty, Mark Pulliam: Clarence Thomas’ Road Less Traveled (reviewing the film Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words). From the introduction: 

Early on in Michael Pack’s gripping new documentary on Justice Clarence Thomas, Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words—a first-person profile of the controversial justice, featuring frank interviews with Justice Thomas and his wife, Virginia—Thomas refers to a poem he studied in high school, Robert Frost’s  The Road Not Taken. The line that stuck with him after all these years was “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—/I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference.” (Emphasis added.) At critical junctures in his life, he seems to suggest, he took the unconventional route, leading to a destination that—while satisfying to him—may be difficult for others to accept. Alas, a pilgrim’s journey is his own, and Thomas has the confidence and self-awareness not to doubt his choices.

And from later on:

... On a personal level, Thomas is very likeable, which comes through in Pack’s documentary. Much of Created Equal consists of Thomas speaking directly into the camera. His warm nature is obvious from his disarming demeanor and booming laugh.

Thomas’ story is full of drama. His odyssey from an impoverished, Gullah/Geechee-speaking childhood in Pin Point, Georgia during the Jim Crow era, to studying law in New Haven; from working in the Missouri Attorney General’s office (under then-A.G. John Danforth) to chairing the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Ronald Reagan; from a brief tenure on the D.C. Circuit (filling the seat vacated by Robert Bork) to becoming the 106th justice on the Supreme Court following a narrow (52–48) Senate confirmation vote, is a fascinating narrative.

Thomas’ journey is all the more remarkable when one includes his fatherless upbringing; being raised by his strict but uneducated grandparents; the sympathetic tutelage of Catholic nuns at his segregated parochial school, where he was a devoted altar boy; his teenage desire to study for the priesthood; his disillusionment as the only black student in a Catholic seminary; his radicalization while attending Holy Cross College during the tumultuous 60s (where he became active in the Black Power movement and protested in support of Angela Davis); and his eventual discovery of—and conversion to—conservative ideas.

From the conclusion:

Created Equal does not explore Thomas’ judicial philosophy in any detail and does not delve into the body of his decisions. It provides a fresh perspective in other ways. The movie is about the man. The best way to understand Thomas as a person is to watch him tell his life story, in his own words, looking directly into the camera. The viewer is impressed that Thomas is real; there is nothing phony or fake about him. He is Everyman.