Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words
This book is not a conventional biography but the record of a long biographical discussion. As such, the authors know that the book will be read by different kinds of readers and used in different ways. This introduction is intended as a guide.
WHY THIS BOOK WAS WRITTEN
The impetus to write this book came from the success of our documentary, Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words.
In our two-hour documentary, Clarence Thomas looks directly at the camera and in his own words tells the audience the story of his dramatic and inspiring life. He begins with how he grew up in the segregated South and ends with his years on the Supreme Court. His life is a great American success story, with many twists and turns along the way.
Created Equal first played in more than 110 movie theaters from January to March 2020—a wide release for a documentary—until theaters were forced to close on account of COVID-19. Then, that May, PBS broadcast the film nationally in prime time. The Washington Post called it “a marvel of filmmaking.” The Washington Examiner declared that “everyone interested in the truth and a great story should go and see it.” Time magazine dubbed it “a rare insight into the mind of a justice.”
Created Equal was released digitally in October 2020 and is still streaming on many sites. Our website, ManifoldProductions.com, links to the streaming services where it can be viewed. Ironically, Amazon chose to cancel the film during February 2021, Black History Month, sparking a firestorm of controversy. In spite of this attempt to suppress the film, it remains quite popular.
Many viewers have asked for more—more details about Justice Thomas, more of the interview. An unprecedented number of viewers have approached us, both at in-person and virtual screenings and through our website. A surprising number have seen the film multiple times. Some wrote to protest the Amazon cancelling. Many told us that they wanted the film to be longer (a rare complaint about a documentary), and some even wanted to see the entire thirty hours of outtakes.
Public recognition of Clarence Thomas’s importance has been steadily increasing. Many call the current Supreme Court “The Thomas Court,” pointing to him as the most influential justice, even though he is not the chief justice. For years, he has written the most opinions in each Supreme Court term. His powerful dissents have slowly shifted the court in his direction. Justice Thomas’s life and his opinions seem to speak to this moment and beyond.
To satisfy the public’s interest in our film and Justice Thomas, we offer this book, selected excerpts from our extended interviews with Justice Thomas and his wife, Virginia. Over 90 percent of the material in this book did not appear in the film.
THE AUTHORS AND JUSTICE THOMAS
I first met Justice Thomas in the context of the film. Some mutual friends, including Mark Paoletta, were interested in having a documentary made about Justice Thomas. They were tired of the numerous films, books, and articles that have lied about and distorted his life and work, and they wanted to correct the record in film.
At the time the idea of a possible documentary was brought to my attention, I knew little about Clarence Thomas. Like everyone of a certain age, I vividly recalled being glued to the television, tuning into C-SPAN to watch Anita Hill’s shocking charges and Thomas’s full-throated rebuttal. But I knew little else, and—as I later realized—I had inadvertently absorbed some the media’s biased narrative and hidden assumptions about Justice Thomas.
Our mutual friends arranged a meeting. One meeting and a little research was all it took to convince me that Clarence Thomas had a great story to tell. His was a story of overcoming great obstacles, of resilience and moral courage. I very much wanted to tell that story, a story the American people needed to hear.
Mark Paoletta was a key part of the production process throughout, especially in confirming the factual details. Justice Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas, often says, “Mark knows more about our lives than we do.” Really he was an unsung, uncredited executive producer of the documentary. Now he is a close friend.
Originally I planned a traditional documentary, including many interviews with friends and enemies, covering all the phases of Justice Thomas’s life and all sides of the issues raised by his jurisprudence and his career, from busing and affirmative action to the Anita Hill charges. Eventually, I realized that this project would become unwieldy and that Thomas’s own unique voice would be lost. Plus, he is the best storyteller of the events of his own life. So ours would be a subjective film—not the objective truth but Justice Thomas’s own story, told his way. Audiences could choose to accept or reject it, based on what they heard from him and the many other sources out there.
In the end we settled on a documentary based on long interviews with only Justice Thomas and Ginni Thomas, both talking directly to the camera, looking the audience in the eye, as if chatting across a dinner table. I interviewed them for over thirty hours, from November 15, 2017, to March 14, 2018. No filmmaker has ever been given such access to a Supreme Court justice. The film, and now this book, is based on those interviews. Of course, there was also extensive use of archival footage, vintage photographs, and expressionistic re-creations.
As is our standard practice, neither Justice Thomas nor Ginni Thomas had any editorial control over the film. In fact, Justice Thomas’s only suggestion was to include Ginni. He was to be the only interview subject, but he correctly saw that Ginni could talk about his (and their) states of mind in difficult moments in a way he could not. Ginni’s interview was so compelling that we have added an appendix with selections from it.
I am forever grateful for the trust the Thomases placed in me and my team to tell their stories fairly and honestly. Working on this film and now this book has been one of the great privileges of my career. I was honored to be able to share their stories with you, the viewer, and now you, the reader.
I first met Clarence Thomas in October of 1983 at an event in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when he was the chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and I was a senior in college. Along with a few others, we chatted for a little more than an hour. He was engaging and full of energy and opinions. He made a huge impression on me.
In March of 1989, I was a young lawyer serving in the George H. W. Bush White House and working on the team that vetted individuals for possible appointment as federal judges. The White House was interested in selecting Clarence Thomas for the D.C. Circuit and wanted to do due diligence on his record. Based in part on that 1983 conversation, I volunteered to reach out to Thomas to obtain copies of his speeches and writing.
What I read was electrifying. Here was a guy who stood up for what he believed in and called it like he saw it. He took on the civil rights establishment and Congress. I spoke with him several times, and he was the same as the man I remembered meeting six years before. I hoped the president would select him because he had been through the fire as a black conservative in the Reagan administration and seemed to have a steel back bone toward anyone who tried to tell him what to think or do. But given his public opinions I was not sure he would be confirmed by the Democrat-led Senate. The president did select him, and Thomas was confirmed in March 1990 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
When President Bush announced on July 1, 1991, that he was nominating Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court, I was thrilled that I would be part of the White House team working to get him confirmed. At that announcement, Thomas spoke those uplifting words, “Only in America” in his brief remarks, capturing so eloquently the hope and promise of our extraordinary country.
But immediately the left began an all-out assault to destroy this good man for no other reason than that he did not conform to the beliefs he was assigned by virtue of his race, and that he would not back down from those views. Out of that terrible ordeal, a friendship was forged.
Several months after he was confirmed, I was diagnosed with cancer. As I went through surgeries and chemotherapy, our bond grew deeper. Justice Thomas visited or called me every day, particularly during my rounds of chemotherapy, focusing on my health challenge and always cheering me up. When my treatments were done and my hair had grown back, he signed a photo of us with the words, “Great hair, buddy! We survived!” We have been close friends ever since.
Clarence Thomas is an American hero, representing the best of America. He is our greatest Supreme Court justice. As exceptional a public figure as he is, he is an even better friend, and not just to me. Justice Thomas’s wife, Ginni, is also a dear friend and an inspiring figure in her own right.
Over the years, I have been angered by the vicious, racist, and false portrayals of Justice Thomas in articles, books, and films. After the anti–Justice Thomas HBO movie Confirmation was released in 2016, I was determined to help bring about a film that portrayed the real Clarence Thomas. It was in that context, and with the help of some friends, that I began working with Michael Pack. We were blessed that this A-list documentary filmmaker turned out to be interested in making a film about Clarence Thomas. Michael Pack truly understood the monumental importance of Clarence Thomas’s life journey, his ideas, and jurisprudence. It has been one of the greatest joys in my life to be able to work with Michael on the film. Michael has made a masterpiece that every American should watch.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
We designed this book to be used two ways.
First, you can read it straight through, as Clarence Thomas’s life story, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. In this way, the structure of the book parallels the structure of our film. The actual interviews, like most conversations, meandered. Justice Thomas might circle back to reflect on an earlier phase of his life or flash forward to something more recent. We have smoothed all this out for the book, as we did for the film.
To help place you in time, we have provided a chronology, a timeline of the major events of Clarence Thomas’s life. As you read along, you can always refer back to the chronology to get your bearings.
Second, we expect some readers will want to go to the topics and incidents of interest to them, to skip around—say from affirmative action to the confirmation hearings. The index is designed to support these readers. We also offer very detailed chapters and subchapter headings, which appear in the table of contents and can guide the reader to the sections of most interest.
However you use the book, we hope that learning more about Justice Thomas’s life and ideas will be as inspiring to you as it has been to us.
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