News & Politics

Deconstructing Controversial Clarence

Whom does Clarence Thomas most resemble among his predecessors as Supreme Court justices? Thurgood Marshall, says Kevin Merida, whose biography of Thomas, written with fellow Post writer Mike Fletcher, came out April 24. Sounds blasphemous: Marshall was liberal and revered by most blacks, while Thomas is a conservative and is attacked by many African-Americans.

“Both were black men who found themselves judged by a racial critique,” says Merida. “Everyone says Marshall followed Brennan, just as Thomas follows Scalia.

Neither Merida nor Fletcher, who were roommates at Boston University before finding themselves at the Post, would judge Thomas.

“He has the most prestigious tenured job in public life,” Merida says, “yet he’s not celebrated by his own people.”

The book narrates Thomas’s rise, propelled by white patrons who wanted to promote a black man with conservative ideals—which makes many African-Americans call him an “Uncle Tom.” They point to his officiating at Rush Limbaugh’s wedding, which Merida and Fletcher describe in detail.

Merida found Thomas “tortured and conflicted, uncertain, and in some ways insecure and lonely.”

Merida and Fletcher wrote Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas without interviewing Thomas, who politely declined. They did interview several hundred others, including his mother and sister. “Thomas’s nephew, whose son the justice is raising, gave us an exclusive interview from prison,” they wrote.

“Many people see Thomas as a self-hating black man,” Merida says.

So is he?

“No,” Merida says. “He’s way more complex.”