Justice Clarence Thomas has lived a uniquely American life. Born on June 23, 1948, in the small coastal community of Pin Point, Georgia—a community founded by freed slaves after the Civil War—Thomas grew up in the segregated South of the Jim Crow era. Thomas’ father deserted his family when Thomas was very young. When Thomas was seven, his mother sent Clarence and his younger brother Myers to live in the home of his maternal grandparents, Myers and Christine Anderson, in Savannah. His grandfather’s influence on Thomas was so profound that he called him “Daddy” and titled his 2007 memoir My Grandfather’s Son. In his memoir, Justice Thomas wrote of his grandfather: “He was the one hero in my life. What I am is what he made me.”
Clarence Thomas attended St. Benedict the Moor Grammar School, a segregated Catholic school in Savannah run by the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. These Irish nuns, and especially Sister Mary Virgilius, also had an indelible impact on his life. Thomas did not attend an integrated school until he entered St. John Vianney Minor Seminary in the tenth grade. He later attended The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts and Yale Law School.
After receiving his law degree in 1974, Thomas worked for Missouri Attorney General John Danforth. When Danforth was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976, Thomas went to work for Monsanto in its legal department. He moved to Washington, D.C. to join Senator Danforth’s staff in 1979. After Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, Thomas was nominated and confirmed to be an Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education (1981-82) and then Chairman of the Equal Opportunity Commission (1982-90).
In 1989, President George H.W. Bush nominated Thomas for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and he was confirmed in 1990. The following year, President Bush nominated Thomas to the Supreme Court of the United States, and after a controversial and contentious confirmation process, Thomas was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and became the 106th Justice—and second black American—to serve on the nation’s highest court.
Justice Clarence Thomas has been one of the Supreme Court’s most principled originalists over the past twenty-five years. Based on this approach more fully set forth here, Justice Thomas has been a vigorous defender of the First Amendment and a strong voice for Second Amendment rights. Consistent with this approach, Justice Thomas has also held that the Constitution permits no discrimination based on race, and that the Constitution leaves certain moral and social choices, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, to the States. Justice Thomas has also raised questions about the extent of power delegated to federal agencies and emphasized the importance of judicial accountability for administrative actions.
Justice Thomas is married to Virginia Lamp Thomas and has one son, Jamal, from a previous marriage.
Justice Clarence Thomas’ remarkable journey from the segregation and poverty of Jim Crow Georgia to the Supreme Court of the United States is one that all Americans can admire, and for which all Americans should be grateful.