A new documentary about the life of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas highlights the latent racism in the Senate confirmation hearings led by then-Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.). In the film, set for release on Friday, Thomas recounts the horrifying accusations leveled by Anita Hill and Biden’s twisting of Natural Law in an attempt to trip him up on abortion.
In the documentary, provided in an early screening to PJ Media, Thomas exposes the racism of low political expectations.
“You have to believe in affirmative action because we think you ought to believe in affirmative action. How is that different from slavery? How is that different from segregation?” the justice says. “You can’t think those thoughts!” While he is a black man, his race was seen as illegitimate because he did not fit the stereotype of what a black man should think.
“I had been looking at the wrong people as the people who would be problematic toward me,” he explains. “We were told that, oh it’s going to be the bigot in the pick-up truck, it’s going to be the Klansman, it’s going to be the rural sheriff. And I’m not saying that there weren’t some of those who were bad, but it turned out that through all of that, ultimately the biggest impediment was the modern-day liberal.”
Thomas grew up facing segregation. The deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Bobby Kennedy hit him particularly hard. He had joined the protests of the late 1960s. He bucked against the idea of people forcing rules upon him. After graduating from law school at Yale, he faced the bigotry of low expectations — people assumed he made it to Yale Law School due to his race, and he found it hard to find a job. Only a Republican would hire him, so he took the job.
He grew to realize that the Democrats’ approach to race was mistaken and even offensive. “I was distressed by the Democratic Party’s promises to legislate the problems of blacks out of existence.” He supported Ronald Regan in 1980 because he wanted to get “government off the backs of the poor.”
Due to his conservative ideas, Thomas found himself dismissed as not being “really black.”
“Any black misguided enough to accept a job in the Reagan administration was automatically branded an Uncle Tom,” he explains.
While serving in the Reagan administration, Thomas delved deep into the Constitution and the Natural Law philosophy behind it. He cites the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
“That’s Natural Law in a nutshell,” he explains. When America allowed slavery and segregation, those evils stood condemned by Natural Law — they conflicted with the nation’s ideals. The idea that all men are created equal is a powerful rebuke to the racism in America’s past. Thomas embraced Natural Law as the guiding principle of American law, the philosophy behind the Constitution.
After serving in the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under Reagan until 1990, he joined the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit that year. In July 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated him to replace Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court.
This is where Joe Biden comes in. Biden took a leading role in the orchestrated attempt to “Bork” Clarence Thomas. This should come as no surprise, given Biden’s role in the political hit job on Robert Bork — a role he bragged about last October.
The NAACP “said they were going to be non-committal and were not going to oppose me. Well, shortly after that, they opposed me,” Thomas explains in the film. Friends told him the AFL-CIO had sent a letter to the NAACP. “What I was told was that they needed cover for the women’s groups to oppose me, so they needed the NAACP out front.”
When Joe Biden, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, pressed Thomas on the issue of Natural Law, he was trying to get the Supreme Court nominee to slip up on the issue of abortion.
In the film, the justice says Biden did not understand what he was talking about.
“Natural Law was nothing more than a way of tricking me into talking about abortion, since many Catholic moral philosophers saw the two things as intimately related. But my view was different,” Thomas says. He testified that he never even debated Roe v. Wade (1973), the Supreme Court case legalizing abortion. Biden found this impossible to believe.
Yet the hearings got worse. Anita Hill, who had worked with Thomas at the DOE and the EEOC, accused him of sexual harassment. She had done so in testimony to the Senate during the confirmation. In the film, the Supreme Court justice insists that the leaking of this testimony was a crime. “This was a criminal act that did this.”
“I was shocked, surprised, hurt, and enormously saddened” by the allegations, he says. “She never raised any hint that she was uncomfortable with me.” When he heard more about the specific allegations, Thomas recalled thinking, “Thank God! I know that never happened.”
The film shows his powerful testimony in 1991.
“Senator I would like to start by saying unequivocally, uncategorically, that I deny each and every single allegation against me today that suggested in any way that I had conversations of a sexual nature or about pornographic material with Anita Hill, that I ever attempted to date her, that I ever had any personal sexual interest in her, or that I in any way sexually harassed her.”
“This is a circus, it’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American as far as I’m concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas,” he declared. “And it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.”
“I have been harmed. I have been harmed. My family has been harmed. I’ve been harmed worse than I’ve ever been harmed in my life. I wasn’t harmed by the Klan. I wasn’t harmed by the Knights of Camelia. I wasn’t harmed by the Aryan Race. I wasn’t harmed by a racist group. I was harmed by this process — this process — which accommodated these attacks on me,” Thomas said. “I’d rather die than withdraw from the process. Not for the purpose of serving on the Supreme Court, but for the purpose of not being driven out of this process. I will not be scared. I don’t like bullies. I’ve never run from bullies.”
Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a 52-48 vote in a Democrat-majority Senate, with 41 Republicans and 11 Democrats supporting him. Biden voted against him.
Even so, liberals have engaged in racist attacks against the black Supreme Court justice. The film concludes by showing political cartoons with Clarence Thomas in a Ku Klux Klan hood and a news magazine headlined “Uncle Thomas: Lawn Jockey for the Far Right.”
“If you criticize a black person who’s more liberal, you’re a racist. Whereas if you can do whatever to me or to now Ben Carson, and that’s fine because ‘You’re not really black because you’re not doing what we expect black people to do,'” Thomas says.
“The framers understood Natural Law and natural rights a certain way and it is an underpinning of the Declaration of Independence,” the Supreme Court justice explains. Natural Law is not some dog-whistle that Joe Biden should demonize — it is the centerpiece of America’s constitutional order.
The documentary notes Clarence Thomas’ many accomplishments, including his 600 opinions — 30 percent more than every other sitting Supreme Court justice. While the film is a fitting tribute to the justice, it also draws attention to Joe Biden’s past — a past that should deeply concern Americans today.
The explosive new film may also undermine Biden’s support among black Americans — who tend to prefer him to the other 2020 Democrats.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.