The Politicization of Clarence Thomas

Perception often shapes memory. In particular, the way one perceives a noteworthy public figure often shapes that figure’s historical legacy. For example, history largely remembers John Coltrane as one of the greatest jazz saxophone players of our time. His improvisational skill, innovative style, and mastery over his instrument all serve to classify him in the public memory as the ultimate jazz performer. Yet, as the example of Coltrane might demonstrate, perception is unjustly deficient. Coltrane was not merely a great saxophone player; he was first and foremost a religious figure whose spirituality drove his creativity and manifested itself in prayerful reflections of “be bop.” The failure to perceive of Coltrane as a spiritual man, as opposed to a musical one, has led to an inadequate understanding of his music and, consequently, his legacy. From Coltrane to the radically different Clarence Thomas, these very same issues of legacy and perception have arisen as legal scholars begin to assess the first decade of Justice Thomas’s tenure on the Supreme Court. A recent proliferation of biographies, jurisprudential critiques, and symposia have all aspired to ascertain Justice Thomas’s impact on judicial history and the law. Of this literature, the most comprehensive work on Thomas is Andrew Peyton Thomas’s Clarence Thomas: A Biography. In his biography, Peyton Thomas undertakes a detailed examination of the life and legacy of Justice Thomas.