Jurist / U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Clarence Thomas is the U.S. Supreme Court justice who was thrust into the limelight in his 1991 confirmation proceedings, during which he was accused of sexual harassment. Clarence Thomas grew up in rural Georgia, attended Conception Seminary and Holy Cross College, then graduated from Yale Law School in 1974. He practiced law for a short time in Missouri, then was an assistant to the attorney general and a corporate attorney before becoming an aide to Senator John Danforth (1979-81). Thomas caught the eye of the administration of President Ronald Reagan
and ended up as the chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from 1982 until 1990, when he was appointed by President George Bush
to the U.S. Court of Appeals. After just one year on the bench, Thomas he was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Bush, to fill the seat left by retiring justice Thurgood Marshall
. (Thomas, like Marshall, was Black.) Despite debate over Thomas's conservative political positions and lack of experience, he appeared to be headed for confirmation when the story broke that a former colleague, Anita Hill, had accused him of lewd and inappropriate behavior while at the EEOC. The Senate Judiciary Committee reopened Thomas's confirmation hearing and televised the proceedings. Hill, a law professor in Oklahoma, gave testimony that stunned viewers with its adults-only content. Thomas flatly denied her allegations, and both sides, Democrats supporting Hill and Republicans supporting Thomas, accused the other of dirty politics. In spite of Thomas's famous declaration that the hearing amounted to "a high-tech lynching of uppity blacks," what came out of the hearings was a national debate not on race, but on gender -- specifically the issue of sexual harrassment. In the end, Thomas was confirmed by the Senate, 52-48, and became the second African American to sit on the Supreme Court. In the decades since he has become known as one of the more conservative justices, and for his almost total refusal to ask questions during oral arguments.