Autobiographical Revelations of Justice Clarence Thomas

In My Grandfather’s Son, Justice Thomas uses autobiography to explain and defend his views on affirmative action, and to settle some personal and political scores.  Obviously, Justice Thomas focuses on Anita Hall’s accusations, which were leaked by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then made the focus of that Committee’s reconvening.  Politicians and journalists who treated Thomas shabbily are called out, and others who helped and supported him, such as Senator Danforth, are hailed.  What would be the point of writing an autobiography if not to settle old scores, and to advance one’s own narrative of events?

Some of the Justice’s targets are surprising.  There is a not much good that Thomas finds to say about the Yale Law School.  In Thomas’ view, Yale’s affirmative action program devalued his accomplishments, both before arriving at Yale, and since leaving.

Interestingly, Thomas candidly reveals that he drank to excess, while an undergraduate at Holy Cross, as a law student, at Yale, and through his first marriage, its dissolution, and its aftermath.  When the FBI interviewed Thomas, and asked him about the use of illegal drugs (marijuana), Thomas answered that he “did not recall,” because he may have tried marijuana while intoxicated by alcohol at college.  Thomas does not discuss whether drinking after law school, and especially after his separation and divorce, ever affected his judgment or recall of events, which are the subject of Hill’s allegations.

For tort lawyers, Thomas’ autobiography holds another surprise:  the extent to which he engages in non-evidence-based accusations against medications and chemicals.  For a while, Thomas worked in the legal department of Monsanto Corporation, but he was unsettled by defending the company’s chemicals, which he believed were so dangerous to humans.  Thomas reached this judgment by his own reading internal company animal studies. 

Elsewhere in his autobiography, Thomas describes a worker who experienced hemiparalysis, which was attributed to a stroke, but which he believed was the result of creosote exposure.  Thomas refers back to studies he believed he saw on the “neurotoxicity” of creosote, which can cause just this sort of neurological damage.  Thomas is rather vague about the sources for his belief that cresote would cause hemiparalysis, which would be a remarkable outcome for such an exposure.  Later in his autobiography, Thomas describes the death of his grandfather, who had worked so hard to help him achieve his successes.  His grandfather, whom he called “Daddy,” died of a stroke.  Thomas suggests that the stroke resulted from Daddy’s use of a cough-cold remedy, and other medications he was taking.  Elsewhere, however, Thomas describes Daddy as having been a smoker, and as having had a diet of fried and fatty foods.  Thomas does not comment whether his grandfather had been diagnosed with high blood pressure, but the diet and lifestyle described certainly provided ample risk factors for a stroke. 

Somehow Thomas’ attribution of causality for his grandfather’s stroke seems fanciful, although perhaps we can excuse his thinking as having been muddled by his emotion.

I suppose most readers will focus on, and pick apart, the narrative about Anita Hill, but I found Thomas’ views about medical causation more interesting and disturbing because they were asides that seemed not to fit within the narrative, and because they were so thoroughly devoid of scientific basis or reasoning.  The inclusion of these judgments about medical causation was more concerning to me than his bitter criticisms of “liberals,” but perhaps that is just me.

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