Clarence and Ginni Thomas: Politics, Power and the Supreme Court

  • [Frontline S2023E02, 2023-05-09, 1 hour 54 minutes] Clarence and Ginni Thomas: Politics, Power and the Supreme Court.

  • Transcript

    NARRATOR: In the days before the 2020 election -

    RUSH LIMBAUGH: A massive impact on the American judiciary.

    NARRATOR: - a decisive moment.

    RUSH LIMBAUGH: Clarence Thomas. Amy Coney Barrett. Folks, do you know how big this is? This is huge.

    NARRATOR: Presiding over the ceremony: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

    AMY CONEY BARRETT: I, Amy Coney Barrett, do solemnly swear -

    CLARENCE THOMAS: - that I will support and defend the Constitution.

    NARRATOR: Amy Coney Barrett had chosen Thomas to swear her in.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: So help me God.

    AMY CONEY BARRETT: So help me God.

    NARRATOR: A sign of transformation inside the high court.

    MICHAEL FLETCHER, Co-author, Supreme Discomfort: It's a moment of victory for Clarence Thomas. He's now become the center of the court. And I think he would say he won.

    STEPHEN F. SMITH, Fmr. clerk, Justice Thomas: Justice Thomas has developed into one of the leading lights on the court, if not the leading light. So this is why it's often referred to as the Thomas Court now. He really is sort of the ideological and intellectual center of gravity on the court.

    NARRATOR: In the front row, Thomas' wife, Ginni.

    KURT ANDERSEN, Author, Evil Geniuses: It was a momentous moment. Ginni Thomas is as good as any, maybe the best embodiment of the American right today. She's a true believer. She has always been on the far right. Her politics are all about this politics of fear and anger. That's Ginni Thomas.

    NARRATOR: Two powerful conservatives, on the court and in politics, pursuing a shared vision.

    RANDALL KENNEDY, Professor, Harvard Law School: This duo of Clarence Thomas and Ginni Thomas, they are the "it" couple of the far right.

    NARRATOR: Two lives, shaped by history -

    GEORGE WALLACE: Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.

    NARRATOR: - politics -

    PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: The American women do not want ERA. They do not want abortion.

    NARRATOR: - and race.

    RUSH LIMBAUGH: Affirmative action is not equality.

    NARRATOR: Leaving an indelible mark on America.

    MALE NEWSREADER: - the conservative majority overturning Roe v. Wade, the right to choose abortion.

    FEMALE NEWSREADER: - challenging the use of race in college admissions, which could have an impact on affirmative action.

    FEMALE NEWSREADER: In a nation freighted with division and upheaval, the Thomases have found their moment.

    JANE MAYER, Co-author, Strange Justice: They are one and the same in how they look at their opponents. It's a war with the other side.

    Brown Bag Rule

    Voice of Clarence Thomas

    Congressional testimony

    CLARENCE THOMAS: My earliest memories are those of Pin Point, Georgia, a life far removed in space and time.

    NARRATOR: Clarence Thomas' journey to the center of American power began as far away as one can get from it.

    GLENN LOURY, Friend: He came up poor, very poor, from a marginal community. They talk about marginalized and underrepresented communities. Well, the Geechee dialect-speaking, Sea Island-dwelling poor Black people of the 1950s, which is when he was coming along, were as marginal, I can imagine, as you could get within the context of American society.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: In 1955, my brother and I went to live with my mother in Savannah. We lived in one room in a tenement. We shared a kitchen with other tenants, and we had a common bathroom in the backyard, which was unworkable and unusable. It was hard, but it was all we had and all there was.

    KEVIN MERIDA, Co-author, Supreme Discomfort: His father left early and moved away. His mother was a single mother. His mother married many times. He didn't have a relationship with any of - not his biological dad, or any that came afterwards.

    LESTER JOHNSON, Friend: His mom has talked to me about how that was a very bleak period of her life, when she had to do. But she said, "But I had to do what I had to do."

    NARRATOR: Desperate, Clarence's mother, Leola Williams, gave up the boys, sending them to live at their grandfather's house.

    LILLIAN McEWEN, Fmr. girlfriend: Clarence had been rescued from a life of poverty and ended up in a house that had a toilet, running water and his ability to go to school every day.

    NARRATOR: But life with his grandfather, Myers Anderson, had its own challenges.

    ORION DOUGLASS, Friend: He was tough. He was hard. I don't think empathy might have been his strongest point.

    JANE MAYER: I interviewed Clarence Thomas' mother. She described that the grandfather would lock Clarence Thomas and his little brother in the hall closet and not let them out, for punishment. And he also whipped them with a belt quite routinely.

    LILLIAN McEWEN: His grandfather beat the two boys quite often, whenever it was that they didn't do something fast enough or well enough. He was physically, mentally, verbally abusive to both of the boys. Probably the unhappiest that he's ever been in his life was the time that he spent in his grandfather's house.

    NARRATOR: Things weren't much easier for Clarence out in segregated Savannah.

    LESTER JOHNSON: Savannah would have been divided on racial lines. And when I say that, don't just think that I'm talking white/black. We had racial divides among the Black community.

    ORION DOUGLASS: They had the "brown bag rule." Your complexion, it is either equal to the brown bag or lighter. Anything darker, it was ridiculed or derogated in some way.

    NARRATOR: Thomas wrote about it in his autobiography.

    "My Grandfather's Son" by Clarence Thomas

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: Most of the insults aimed at me had to do with the darkness of my skin, the flatness of my nose, the kinkiness of my hair, and the way I talked. Such racial slurs stung all the more for having come from my own people.

    KEVIN MERIDA: The issues of class and race have always been at the heart of how Thomas has seen himself. That's the prism through which he sees his own life. And at every turn, there is a racial dimension to his life that he talks about.

    LILLIAN McEWEN: Clarence was frankly never comfortable around the Black people in Georgia. Clarence had been ridiculed by the children in that area around Pin Point and he was nicknamed A-B-C, for "America's Blackest Child." So from an early age Clarence really felt estranged I think from his entire community.

    GLENN LOURY: The resentment and anger that that can provoke within the darker-skinned and "Blacker" individuals is also not so pretty. It's a psychologically debilitating aspect of African American experience, this kind of class/color prejudice that operates amongst Black Americans.

    Father Clarence Thomas

    ORION DOUGLASS: I guess the thing I remember most about Clarence is him as an altar boy. Whenever father needed to find altar boys, all of my classmates and all would hide. Clarence would volunteer.

    LESTER JOHNSON: He had a grandfather who was a devout Catholic and wanted him to have the Catholic experience.

    NARRATOR: His grandfather paid $20 a year for Clarence to attend St. Benedict's school.

    ORION DOUGLASS: Our teachers were - The nuns were called the "n----- nuns" in Savannah. In other words, they were assigned to educate Black kids.

    "My Grandfather's Son" by Clarence Thomas

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: Whatever our circumstances, the nuns treated us all with respect and insisted that we do our best, though some of them insisted harder than others.

    NARRATOR: One of the nuns paid special attention to Clarence.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: Sister Mary Virgilius, my eighth-grade teacher, took a no-nonsense, high-expectations approach to teaching, which may be why she got the most out of me.

    ORION DOUGLASS: I think his nurturing came from them, because it wasn't coming from his immediate family. I don't think he had the nurturing of parents and whatever we would normally get, and the nuns and the priest provided that for him.

    LILLIAN McEWEN: The Catholic Church can be a refuge from everything else that's going on in your life. I wanted to be a nun before I hit puberty. [Laughs] And so it was not surprising to me that he would want to go into the seminary.

    NARRATOR: Clarence excelled at the school, and before long the nuns began to tout him as a role model.

    LESTER JOHNSON: The nuns, that's all they talked about. "Clarence Thomas is going to be our first Black priest in Savannah, and you should really admire him for that, young boys and young girls."

    JANE MAYER: He is hard-driving and ambitious and very hardworking. He's trying to prove himself. You can sort of see in him from this early period that it's kind of like, "I'll show them, and I don't care if you reject me. I'm going to make it anyway, and I'll show you."

    Young Ginni

    NARRATOR: If Clarence Thomas struggled in the segregated South, in the middle of America his future wife, Ginni Lamp, was living a seemingly picture-perfect life.

    SCOTT BANGE, Classmate: The thing about the Midwest is that the largest feature of the landscape is the sky. There's like over 180 degrees of sky. I suppose a long vista gives you a sense that there's something beyond, there's something more out there.

    MALE TV ANNOUNCER: "Leave It to Beaver."

    JUNE CLEAVER: Beaver, what's the matter with your eye?

    BEAVER CLEAVER: Which eye, Mom?

    KURT ANDERSEN: I remember watching "Leave It to Beaver" and thinking as a child, "Well, this is - that's my neighborhood. That's where I'm growing up." The kind of "American dream" locale in the 1960s and early '70s.

    NARRATOR: Kurt Andersen grew up across the street from Ginni.

    KURT ANDERSEN: Where we lived was this prosperous, all-white neighborhood. Except for the housekeepers and cleaners, it was easy to go for days, weeks, months, forever without seeing Black people, frankly, is what it was.

    SCOTT BANGE: She came from within almost a walled bastion.

    NARRATOR: Scott Bange was her high school boyfriend.

    SCOTT BANGE: There was no exposure in her life to somebody who was a high school kid and drank, or smoked weed, or did all those things that I thought were normal and high school kids did. She was a pretty good little girl.

    KURT ANDERSEN: She was just kind of a non-exceptional, middle-of-the-pack girl in these giant classes of 750 people.

    SCOTT BANGE: She was involved in things like Pep Club. Then she became something they called "Warrior Woman." She would lead the marching band and all these people carrying pennants and whatnot.

    NARRATOR: But at home, there was something underneath the everyday suburban veneer.

    JANE MAYER: She's the youngest child of a very prosperous real estate developer. Her mom was a homemaker and political activist. They were leading what looked outwardly like an idyllic suburban lifestyle.

    STEPHEN F. SMITH: I have heard Ginni Thomas say that she was sort of the mistake child, that she was born a lot later. So her parents were very politically engaged. They thought they were done having children and then comes along Ginni. They would take her to these Republican rallies and so she grew up with Republican activism. And obviously, it took.

    NARRATOR: It was a Republican activism beyond the norm even in conservative Omaha.

    KURT ANDERSEN: I first became familiar with the Lamps from my parents talking about them as what they called "Black Hats." That was their phrase for extreme, far-right, John Birch-y Republicans.

    NARRATOR: The Lamps were immersed in a growing culture of right-wing fearmongering, like this film from supporters of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.

    MALE FILM NARRATOR: Our streets are not safe. Immorality begins to flourish. Violence pits American against American. We don't want this.

    KURT ANDERSEN: It's there in this film. Shots of "the city," of newsstands with pornography on it and fast cars and kids doing the twist and topless dancing and the whole realm of cultural boogeymen.

    MALE FILM NARRATOR: Demoralization. Chaos. This is the change, the other America that the people slowly wake up to. In the streets, the mob. Mobocracy.

    NARRATOR: As Ginni was growing up, the conflicts of the 1960s were being broadcast on television.

    GEORGE WALLACE: And I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.

    SCOTT BANGE: There you are, a preteen, and you're a sponge, right?

    MALE REPORTER: - was in a march this morning to the county courthouse at Selma, Alabama.

    SCOTT BANGE: Television had really expanded.

    BOBBY SEALE: The whole Black nation has to be put together as a Black army.

    SCOTT BANGE: Everything came right into your living room, so to speak, every night.

    NARRATOR: In response, the Lamps were drawn to the John Birch Society.

    BIRCH SOCIETY FILM NARRATOR: The Civil Rights Movement as we know it today is simply part of a worldwide movement organized and directed by communists to enslave all mankind.

    JILL ABRAMSON, Fmr. Exec. Editor, The New York Times: The John Birch Society became a code word for very far-out-there right-wing beliefs and activities.

    MALE SPEAKER: Their objective is not communist conquest, it's anarchy, breakdown of law and order, helplessness!

    NARRATOR: For young Ginni, it left an impression.

    JANE MAYER, The New Yorker: You can see so many echoes in the John Birch Society of what became QAnon and other sort of far-right radical conspiracy theories. And this was a very sort of black-and-white point of view that made politics into war. That was the kind of the mindset that Ginni Lamp grew up in.

    The Seminary

    GULLAH WOMAN: In Gullah the name of this poem is "Dem Four Gals," OK? "Gawd stick by e chillun, e got muccha good ting fling bout" -

    NARRATOR: As a child, Clarence had grown up speaking the language of the enslaved people of Georgia.

    ORION DOUGLASS: It's called Gullah Geechee.

    GULLAH MAN: - and when we greeted people we say, "How oonuh da do."

    ORION DOUGLASS: We used to call it pidgin English, but I think it was a French flavor to it.

    NARRATOR: As one of only two Black students attending a high school seminary, the vestiges of that dialect made him a target of ridicule.

    LILLIAN McEWEN: Not only does it remind everybody around him that he's different, it also reminds them that he's of a lower caste. It has to be monumental for him.

    "My Grandfather's Son" by Clarence Thomas

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: Father Coleman told me matter-of-factly that I didn't speak standard English and that I would have to learn how to talk properly if I didn't want to be thought "inferior." His blunt words hit me like a slap in the face.

    NARRATOR: That moment stuck with him for the rest of his life.

    LILLIAN McEWEN: Clarence, when he got really relaxed, would revert to some of those ways of phrasing and that accent. But he was always extremely conscious of how he pronounced words because he had been forced to do that.

    MICHAEL FLETCHER: When the justice was on the high court, he was famous for not speaking during oral argument. And one of the explanations he would offer for that was because he was embarrassed about how he talked even though that was so far in the past that no one who knows the present-day Clarence Thomas would think that that would be a concern of his. But it indeed was.

    NARRATOR: His days living in the white seminary shaped him in other ways, too.

    LESTER JOHNSON: He was in a dormitory, living on that campus. So it had to be tough. When somebody says something derogatory to you in that environment, you've got to deal with it because you're there 24/7.

    MICHAEL FLETCHER: At night, before he'd go to sleep now and then, there'd be laughter in the room and someone would say, "Clarence, smile so we can see you." That kind of thing.

    LILLIAN McEWEN: When they put the lights out at night his peers would shout, "N-----, n-----, n-----, n-----," for hours at night. Keep him up.

    NARRATOR: After he entered the major seminary, one event would become a turning point.

    SEN. ROBERT F. KENNEDY: I have some very sad news for all of you, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

    JANE MAYER: After Martin Luther King is assassinated, that day he hears his fellow seminarians say, "Good, I hope the SOB dies." It's crushing to him. It's absolutely crushing.

    GLENN LOURY: Our hero is murdered, and you're dancing on his grave, so to speak? "These are not my people, the people who would dance on his grave. What am I doing with them? Where am I? Who am I?" This kind of thing. You begin to ask yourself, "What am I buying into here?"

    "My Grandfather's Son" by Clarence Thomas

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: I tore off the beliefs I had learned from the nuns. I knew what was wrong, who to blame for it and what to do about it. I was an angry Black man.

    LILLIAN McEWEN: That seminary was too much for him. He had to leave. It was heart-wrenching. Not only did he leave the religion that sustained him, but he was also living there. And so he had to go back to this household where he was treated like a dog.

    LESTER JOHNSON: It had to be tremendously painstaking. You're going to disappoint so many people - your grandfather, the Black community, the Black Catholic community in Savannah. All these people are looking for you to be the first Black priest.

    MICHAEL FLETCHER: The grandfather's saying, "What, you're leaving the seminary? You're out of my house. I'm cutting you off. You're not going to be supported." And again Thomas is abandoned, right. He's left alone. He's left to fend for himself.

    "My Grandfather's Son" by Clarence Thomas

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: "I'm finished helping you," he said. "You'll have to figure it out yourself. You'll probably end up like your no-good daddy or those other no-good Pin Point Negroes."

    LILLIAN McEWEN: Instead of the grandfather being sympathetic and compassionate and loving and hugging him and saying, "I love you, no matter what," or whatever a normal person would do, he excoriated him and told him that he was a failure and expressed his dire disappointment.

    NARRATOR: Over the years, Thomas would downplay this image of his grandfather and express admiration for the man who gave him a home as a child.

    LILLIAN McEWEN: I mean, the grandfather is in the title of his autobiography. "My Grandfather's Son." That's how he thought of himself. But the picture that he paints in that book is completely the opposite of how Clarence described his grandfather to me.

    Clarence X

    ROBERT F. KENNEDY: My thanks to all of you, and now it's on to Chicago, and let's win there. Thank you very much.

    "My Grandfather's Son" by Clarence Thomas

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: One day I turned on the radio while making my sandwich.

    MALE REPORTER: Senator Kennedy has been shot, is that possible?

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: I heard that Bobby Kennedy had been shot.

    MALE REPORTER: My God, Senator Kennedy has been shot.

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: I fell to my knees and burst into tears.

    ANDREW WEST, Radio reporter: That's it, Raefer, get it! Get the gun, Raefer. OK, now hold on to the guy. Hold on to him.

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: I felt the blind, self-destructive rage that haunted so many of the people I knew.

    MALE REPORTER: And the crowd is running, and the police are chasing them into Jackson, into Grant Park.

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: Surely the time for politeness and nonviolent protest was over. Look what it had done for Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy.

    ANGELA DAVIS: We aren't going to put up with their nonsense, with their irrationality, with their murder any longer.

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: The more injustice I saw, the angrier I became.

    STOKELY CARMICHAEL: We're going to shoot the cops who are shooting our Black brothers in the back in this country, that's where we are.

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: And the angrier I became, the more injustice I saw, and the more I read about the Black Power movement, the more I wanted to be a part of it.

    RAP BROWN: - which means we shall conquer without a doubt. Black Power!

    NARRATOR: Now, Clarence Thomas, budding campus radical, would pursue his education elsewhere. He received a scholarship to a private college in Massachusetts.

    CHOIR [singing]: Holy Cross, Holy Cross, hear the songs of Holy Cross.

    JANE MAYER: At the point when Clarence Thomas got into Holy Cross, the school was actually actively looking for Black students. The president of Holy Cross, John E. Brooks, who set up this program, described it as affirmative action. That's what opened the doors for him.

    NARRATOR: Holy Cross: Catholic. All-male. More than 2,000 white students; 27 Black students, many of them as frustrated as Clarence was.

    ORION DOUGLASS, Holy Cross student: I was pissed off. I had evolved from being hopeful to being pissed off. A lot of young people in America was pissed off. And they weren't seeking a reconciliation, OK. They were seeking a coup, to change the whole thing.

    LESTER JOHNSON, Holy Cross student: We all involved in it. I was involved in the protests. He was. Literally everybody who went up there. And we, those of us from the South, we were right there with them saying, "Yeah, man, we want to push."

    GORDON DAVIS, Holy Cross classmate: He definitely was inspired by the Black Panthers. He dressed like them. He talked like them. He had a beret. He had army fatigues and he had the army boots.

    ORION DOUGLASS: He wore an Afro. He was out there with everyone else. I think it was positive, because he had a group. He wasn't alone now. He became part of his group.

    GLENN LOURY: I don't know if he had a well-formed political philosophy before he got to Holy Cross. Maybe he was simply going along. But the years 1968, 1969 - gosh, I was there, and the forces of conformity to a sense of outraged fury, resistance, the throwing off of oppression by any means necessary. It was very seductive. It was very compelling to many, many people, among whom was Clarence Thomas.

    NARRATOR: And he had a hero: Malcolm X.

    MALCOLM X: We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary.

    NARRATOR: He had a poster of Malcolm X in his dorm room.

    STEPHEN F. SMITH: Justice Thomas boasted at one point he had read all of his speeches. And he said at one time, he could quote you some of them by heart. So he really did pay attention to Malcolm X.

    MALCOLM X: We are oppressed. We are exploited. We are downtrodden. We are denied not only civil rights but even human rights.

    NARRATOR: Clarence Thomas' activism culminated in his junior year, as protests broke out 40 miles away in Harvard Square.

    MALE REPORTER: - was an estimated 2,000 radical students from the greater Boston area decided to march to Cambridge and continue demonstrating.

    "My Grandfather's Son" by Clarence Thomas

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: We drank our way to Harvard Square, where our disorderly parade deteriorated into a full-scale riot.

    MALE REPORTER: The demonstration then turned into the most extreme civil disorder in Cambridge history, 4,000 students against 2,000 police.

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: The police fired rounds of tear gas into the crowd, but that didn't deter us, and we kept on rioting well into the night. I got back to campus at 4 in the morning, horrified by what I'd just done.

    MALE NEWSREADER: All over the United States yesterday there were anti-war protests, most of them peaceful. One was not, at Harvard University last night.

    MALE REPORTER: Nearly 200 people were injured, 40 students were arrested.

    "My Grandfather's Son" by Clarence Thomas

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: I had let myself be swept up by an angry mob for no good reason other than that I, too, was angry.

    MICHAEL FLETCHER: It's certainly something he talks about a lot. "Here I am in Harvard Square in this mini-riot. What am I doing here?" right? "What am I doing?"

    NARRATOR: He was conflicted about what he'd done, who he was, what he stood for.

    JANE MAYER, Co-author, Strange Justice: I don't think anything about Clarence Thomas is simple. I mean, he's a bundle of contradictions. And it seems like there's just always so much inner tension within him. Yes, he was radical like his peers, but not as radical. And he broke with them in various ways. And he's always breaking with whatever the dominant political trope is. He says, he's always talking about how he's not going to do what's fashionable. He wants to be different.

    NARRATOR: He set about remaking himself. Gone was the Black Panther uniform. Proving his grandfather wrong, he excelled at school, graduating near the top of his class. And the next day he married his college girlfriend, Kathy Ambush.

    LILLIAN McEWEN: I asked him, "Why did you marry her?" And he said, "Because she was the first woman who was nice to me." He always had a problem with women. He regarded himself as not attractive at all. He regarded women as being pretty mean to him, or indifferent to him. And this was the first woman who did not show that. So he married her. [Laughs]

    Role Model

    PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: I would like to thank my husband, Fred, for letting me come today. I love to say that because it irritates the women's libbers more than anything that I say.

    JANE MAYER: Phyllis Schlafly was a colorful, dynamic, anti-feminist, right-wing reactionary.

    NARRATOR: As Ginni Lamp was growing up, Phyllis Schlafly was a role model. Her mother, Marjorie, was a prominent member of Schlafly's group.

    PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: The American women do not want ERA. They do not want abortion. They do not want lesbian privileges. And they do not want universal child care in the hands of the government.

    LAURA BLUMENFELD, The Washington Post, 1991-2012: What she saw in Phyllis Schlafly and her mom was "no excuses." You don't need affirmative action. You don't need women's kind of special accommodations. You make your own fate, you create your own path and you lean in. It doesn't have to be the liberal way. You can also do it the Republican way.

    NARRATOR: They were waging a battle against the ERA, Equal Rights Amendment.

    JANE MAYER: This one woman, Schlafly, pretty much single-handedly stopped a whole movement and killed the Equal Rights Amendment. It really was an example of what you could do as a conservative woman leading a crusade.

    PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: And we can build this into a mighty movement that can set America on the right path. Then conquer we must, for our cause, it is just, and this be our motto: In God is our trust.

    JANE MAYER: Ginni's inspired. She wants to go into politics. She wants to go to law school. She wants to be like this and like her mom.

    NARRATOR: Ginni watched as her mom ran for the state legislature and wrote dozens of letters to the editor of the local newspaper.

    ACTOR'S VOICE [reading]: Aren't you all getting sick and tired of the news media and liberals taking off in all directions to persecute Republicans, particularly President Nixon and Vice President Agnew? Mrs. Donald G. Lamp.

    NARRATOR: By 12, Ginni was writing her own letters.

    ACTOR'S VOICE [reading]: I am 12 years old, but I don't understand why they can ban all products with cyclamates in them when they aren't even sure they cause cancer. Why don't they ban cigarettes? They know cigarettes cause cancer. Ginny Lamp.

    NARRATOR: She would become a page at the Republican Women's Conference -

    PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: To you, the great silent majority.

    NARRATOR: - following her mom to see Richard Nixon.

    RICHARD NIXON: My fellow Americans, I ask for your support.

    KURT ANDERSEN, Neighbor: Instead of, as so many teenagers do faced with that at that time, reject it and go get high and wear jeans and tell their parents to get out of here, she obviously embraced it and kept embracing it and never stopped embracing it. It's simply saying, "Yes, Mom and Dad, I'm just like you, and I'm proud to be just like you."

    STEPHEN F. SMITH: In many families, you don't talk about politics at the dinner table, right? But that was important to her parents. And it leads to that Manichaeistic view between good and evil. And if you look at things in terms of good and evil, you end up angry. You're bitter. You don't accept defeat. So it takes you to a really dark place when politics is your focus.


    YALE WHIFFENPOOFS [singing]: To the tables down at Mory's, to the place where Louie dwells -

    NARRATOR: After Holy Cross, Clarence Thomas was off to a very different world once again: Yale Law School.

    YALE WHIFFENPOOFS [singing]: - sing the Whiffenpoofs assembled -

    NARRATOR: It was a chance to leave Pin Point far behind, defy his grandfather's prophecy and get positioned to make real money.

    LESTER JOHNSON: We know what the reputation of Yale is: You got a network of folks in all walks of life, in the legal community, and all you've got to say is "Man, I'm a Yale alum," and bam, you got a job. That was our perception.

    MICHAEL FLETCHER: He had thought, well, you know what? I'll just go make me a bunch of money, maybe go to New York and be a lawyer.

    NARRATOR: He and Kathy moved into married student housing. They made a connection with their neighbor.

    JOHN BOLTON, Yale Law classmate: We were both in married student housing. He set up his study room in what should have been a joint storage room.

    NARRATOR: His classmate John Bolton would become U.N. ambassador, undersecretary of state and national security adviser.

    JOHN BOLTON: And we started talking and talked for the next two years basically. And that's where we got to know each other.

    NARRATOR: Over time, Thomas would open up to Bolton.

    JOHN BOLTON: I don't think he was terribly happy at the law school. Look, people at Yale Law School, generically speaking, are a pretty arrogant group. They think that they're going to rule the world. For example, in the year ahead of us were Bill and Hillary Clinton. That was kind of the atmosphere. I don't think Clarence came with that in mind for himself. And I think it was kind of off-putting.

    MICHAEL FLETCHER: There are other Black students there, but again, the Black students who are there, he doesn't feel they are like him. He's not part of the elite. They're, in his mind, privileged kids, the sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers. So he feels, again, like the outcast.

    JOHN BOLTON: He believed that people assumed he was there as a beneficiary of affirmative action, and it grated on him.

    MICHAEL FLETCHER: He has this feeling of, "Oh, I'm around these white students," who he senses question his presence at Yale. "How is it that you - not just you, Clarence Thomas, but you, all you Black students - are here? Is it because of merit? Or is it because of affirmative action?" There was one law professor, Ralph Winter, who in a challenging way mentioned this. "People don't think you deserve to be here," that kind of thing. And Thomas doesn't take it as a challenge; he takes it as a slight.

    NARRATOR: Rather than try to fit in, Thomas tried to stand out.

    JOHN BOLTON: He dressed in overalls and a tee shirt. It was kind of a uniform. Neither one of us was terribly rich, so I didn't wear overalls, but I understood what it meant for him.

    JANE MAYER: With Clarence Thomas, what you see is somebody who's isolating himself. And he's kind of saying, "I don't want to try to join you," maybe because he doesn't want to be rejected again.

    NARRATOR: After three years of Yale Law School, graduation was nearing, but Clarence Thomas wasn't getting the offers he expected from prestigious law firms.

    LESTER JOHNSON, Friend: He was saying that he wasn't getting the kind of offers that other students were getting. And we couldn't understand it. We thought that, "Well, you're at Yale, and if you're not getting offers, something's wrong." Because that's the whole purpose of going to those schools.

    NARRATOR: Thomas would never forget the sting of those rejections.

    MICHAEL FLETCHER: He said he would keep stacks of rejection letters he had gotten from law firms. Even when he was a Supreme Court justice he had these letters just to sort of remind him of those - again, this feeling of rejection by the elite law firms.

    STEPHEN F. SMITH: He had his Yale Law degree and he had a 10-cent stamp stuck to it, like a 10-cent price tag stuck to it. Because he was just like, "Yeah, this is what it's worth, right? 10 cents. No more."

    NARRATOR: He came to blame affirmative action for the rejection he felt.

    "My Grandfather's Son" by Clarence Thomas

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: Now I knew what a law degree from Yale was worth when it bore the taint of racial preference. I was humiliated and desperate.

    GLENN LOURY: He thought that his degree was devalued, that he didn't get the same kind of cachet out of the degree once he was looking for a job and trying to move in his career. He assumed that others were assuming that it's a Yale Law degree, but with an asterisk next to it.

    ORION DOUGLASS: I disagree. I disagree totally.

    NARRATOR: Orion Douglass had a strikingly similar academic journey to Clarence Thomas' - scholarship to Holy Cross, law school, eventually becoming a judge.

    ORION DOUGLASS: How are you going to blame affirmative action for not getting a job when you never was offered the job for 100 years before, OK? The system was still there. The infrastructure for separation, discrimination was still there. It was still the segregated mindset of white America.

    Make America Great Again

    NARRATOR: Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign rocked the world of conservative Republicans. They called it a revolution. And Ginni and her mom were there, watching as Reagan used a catchy phrase to describe it.

    RONALD REAGAN: For those who have abandoned hope, we'll restore hope and we'll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again.

    NARRATOR: Ginni headed to Washington, hoping to do her part, break into politics.

    LAURA BLUMENFELD: I spoke to her brother, Russell, and he said, "Mom was a big politician, and Ginni wanted to be like Mom." And I think Ginni actually came to Washington thinking that she might run for Congress one day.

    REP. HAL DAUB (R-NE), 1981-89: She was prodigious. She worked very hard, morning, noon and night, and certainly didn't need anybody to light a fire under her. She was very, very anxious to perform and to deliver.

    MARC FISHER, The Washington Post: She was young. She was fairly new to Washington. She was someone who wanted to do things in the world, wanted to accomplish something, had a sense of being on a mission.

    NARRATOR: But Washington was a far cry from life in Omaha.

    LAURA BLUMENFELD: She got to Washington, bright-eyed and idealistic from the Midwest, and her mom and dad weren't there. Her older siblings weren't around. It's easy to get lost in Washington. People drink. People sleep with their bosses. People do all kinds of crazy things.

    NARRATOR: During this time, Ginni suffered a traumatic experience, something she later described in "People" magazine.

    People magazine, 1991

    Actor's voice

    ACTOR'S VOICE: I was once sexually harassed at work. It wasn't verbal harassment - it was physical. It was something I had put way down in the recesses of my mind.

    MARC FISHER: She had mentioned to me that she'd had an incident with sexual harassment. She didn't want to get into the details of it, so I didn't know much about it. I just knew that there had been some trauma involved and she was someone who felt kind of alone in the world and was looking for not only companionship, but for the tools that she needed to reattach to the world - to create the relationships that she thought would make her healthier.

    NARRATOR: She was drawn to a controversial self-help group called Lifespring.

    MALE SPEAKER [on video]: In your life, up until now, whether you consider yourself successful or not, you've really done the best you can. This program is an invitation for you to open up new areas for success.

    MARC FISHER: The program gave her a sense of belonging, a group of other searcher-type people who felt lost or lonely, who now came together and go through a deeply intense experience of exposing their emotions to one another, hugging a lot, crying together.

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: It does not hurt, it feels wonderful!


    MARC FISHER: She was deeply impressed. She felt that she had been reborn, almost. It was a spiritual, religious experience for her.

    LAURA BLUMENFELD: At first Ginni was feeling pretty good about it and felt like it was maybe strengthening her, but then there were some troubling exercises.

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 3: Nobody ever helped me. [Cries]

    LAURA BLUMENFELD: One of them was something called "the stripper," where they stood in a U-shape and they disrobe. They took off their clothes, and they made fun of people's bodies and the fat people. And she realized that this was sort of more than just spiritual journey, that there's just some kind of cult-like stripping down of the self, and it was dangerous.

    NARRATOR: Ginni's parents and closest friends were also worried.

    MARC FISHER: Ginni felt that she'd been misled, led astray. And so she wanted to get out, and she turned to a deprogrammer, a counselor, for help in getting out.

    GINNI THOMAS: Hi, I was in Lifespring. And I was what I consider to be deprogrammed.

    LAURA BLUMENFELD: She was somebody who had been to hell and back and she was going to stand up and speak publicly about saving others from the similar - a similar fate.

    GINNI THOMAS: When you come away from a cult you have to find yourself, and what was it that made you get into that group? And what open questions are there that still need to be answered?

    MARC FISHER: She was angry that she had fallen victim to a group like this. When she goes into something, she does it fully, with all her heart. And when she leaves something and feels betrayed and angry, she is against it with all her heart.

    GINNI THOMAS: So all those things that got me to Lifespring are still there. And I guess I struggle with not going overboard in fighting a cult, but I know that's important too.

    LAURA BLUMENFELD: I spoke to her minister, and I guess he gave me the greatest insight into her. He said that she's a very, very trusting person that you have to be careful with. He told me that he thought it was that kind of trusting quality that led her to Lifespring - that she believed in them, until she was burned.

    Black Reaganite

    RONALD REAGAN: How are you? By golly. Happy birthday.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President. I appreciate it.

    RONALD REAGAN: I got a jar of jellybeans for you.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: [Laughs] Thank you very much, Mr. President. I appreciate it.

    NARRATOR: He was 38 years old, in the Oval Office, with the president of the United States.

    MICHAEL FLETCHER: He's one of the highest ranking African American officials in the government, and he's seen as someone certainly on the rise. People already are eyeing him thinking, "Well, maybe we could get this guy prepared for a Supreme Court seat."

    NARRATOR: He'd paid his dues by being the front man for Reagan on issues of race.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: I think that the president is - has really been treated unfairly in the media with respect to his views on minorities.

    NARRATOR: Especially affirmative action, which Thomas came to see as deeply flawed and insincere.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: Where you do run into the conflict is when you have a system set up under the guise of affirmative action that is called "preferential treatment."

    RANDALL KENNEDY, Professor, Harvard Law School: He's playing the role of a Black conservative. He's playing the role of a Black Reaganite.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: The president has been singularly supportive. He supports us where it counts.

    RANDALL KENNEDY: He's giving the Reagan administration cover, so that when people say the Reagan administration is racist, Reagan can say, "Well, you can't say that. Look at these people over here. Look at this guy Clarence Thomas. He's Black."

    CLARENCE THOMAS: I support you. I'll do anything you - uh, to make this effort work.

    RANDALL KENNEDY: "Look at what he's saying. He's with us."

    CLARENCE THOMAS: This has been the highlight of my career. I'm a little bit nervous. Thank you very much.


    NARRATOR: For Clarence Thomas, it had been a long journey to the White House. Unable to get a prestigious job out of law school, he'd settled for a low-paying job as a staff lawyer for the Republican attorney general for Missouri, Jack Danforth.

    JACK DANFORTH: When I first met Clarence, I told him that I would offer him more work on less pay than anybody else interviewing at Yale Law School. And he took the job.

    NARRATOR: He followed Danforth to the United States Senate, where he worked as a staffer.

    JANE MAYER: Danforth offers Clarence Thomas a job in Washington, which is kind of a turning point in Clarence Thomas' career. He has said that he wants to be a big courtroom litigator and make a ton of money, but that's not really happening. I think at this point what you can see is he's ambitious. He decides maybe he can make it in government. He can get to the top there faster than in corporate America.

    NARRATOR: But as he rose in Washington, there was trouble in his personal life.

    "My Grandfather's Son" by Clarence Thomas

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: Moving to Washington had done nothing to ease the dissatisfaction I felt with my marriage. I hated myself for my inability to be the loving, devoted husband Kathy deserved.

    NARRATOR: His marriage was falling apart. He was struggling to raise his young son and dealing with crippling debt.

    KEVIN MERIDA: They're young. They had a son early. It was very difficult, I think, to keep that marriage together in the early years, and I think they just kind of drifted apart.

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: I grew despondent and resigned. I drank more heavily than ever before. I knew I was on the road to trouble.

    LILLIAN McEWEN, Girlfriend: When I first met Clarence, he, more than anything else, is a very angry person. He was self-medicating when I met him, with alcohol.

    NARRATOR: Lillian McEwen was a lawyer for Senator Joe Biden on the Judiciary Committee. She met Thomas as he was going through a divorce.

    LILLIAN McEWEN: Clarence was in the midst of a lot of changes in his life, and so I would pretty much just listen to whatever it was that he had to say about his childhood, about what was going on with him.

    NARRATOR: As they began dating, Lillian found Clarence to be ambitious and determined.

    LILLIAN McEWEN: I would say that every act that Clarence performed at work and socially was always geared toward getting ahead and making sure that he was doing what was necessary to take the next step, whatever that was.

    JANE MAYER: The idea has already occurred to him by 1981 that if he plays his cards right, he could be on the Supreme Court. He's telling people that. 1981. This is so long before it happens. But he's got a plan in the back of his mind. And he knows that he needs to keep doing the right things, punching the right cards, meeting the right people, making the right friends, and it might happen.

    NARRATOR: One important step: He had joined a small circle of conservative Black Republicans.

    RANDALL KENNEDY: You're an ambitious Black person. You have a Yale Law School degree. It makes a lot of sense to go where the line is shorter. It's a long line with the Democrats. A lot of people over there. Much shorter line with the Republicans.

    NARRATOR: He'd been tilting conservative since leaving law school and now began to flesh out his conservative ideology. He reconnected with his former Yale classmate.

    JOHN BOLTON: At one point, he said, "Can you send me some books or something that might be worth reading?" And so I put together a bunch of things I thought he might be interested in reading and sent them out. I think he went through clearly an evolution. He had certainly become much more conservative, really outside of Yale Law School, out in the real world.

    MALE VOICE [reading news article]: You've heard about Clarence Thomas, but not by name. He is one of the Black people now on center stage in American politics: He is a Republican.

    NARRATOR: Thomas would put himself in the spotlight, making controversial comments in The Washington Post.

    MALE VOICE [reading news article]: Thomas is also a man who has a sister on welfare back in his home state of Georgia, but he feels that he must be opposed to welfare because of the dependency it can breed in a person. "She [his sister] gets mad when the mailman is late with her welfare check," he says. "That is how dependent she is. What's worse is that now her kids feel entitled to the check too. They have no motivation for doing better or getting out of that situation."

    LESTER JOHNSON: It hit pretty hard. Folks in Savannah, their first reaction was, "Why would you talk about your sister in public?" You know, we don't do that. That's not Black Savannah. If you've got something to say about your sister, you don't like what she did or whatever, you don't publicize that. You keep that in the family.

    NARRATOR: But in Reagan's Washington, the article propelled Thomas.

    JILL ABRAMSON, Co-author, Strange Justice: Ronald Reagan was famous for denouncing welfare queens. So, wow, here is a Yale Law School graduate who's African American and who's talking about how terrible it is that his sister was on welfare. That was like manna from heaven for Ronald Reagan.

    NARRATOR: Reagan elevated Thomas to run the EEOC - the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    GLENN LOURY, Professor, Brown University: This is a real journey that Clarence Thomas makes, from modest, humble origins to the top of one's profession and, ultimately, to a leading position in American government.

    NARRATOR: Now, for the first time in his life, Clarence Thomas was in charge. But people who knew him then saw disturbing changes.

    LILLIAN McEWEN: His personality, his aggressiveness, sexually, everything changed. He became a different person after he got that job. He stopped drinking alcohol, so he was not self-medicating anymore, and his mood swings were quite obvious.

    ANGELA WRIGHT, Dir. of Communications, EEOC: He never really seemed to be anyone who took any particular joy in anything, unless it was denigrating someone or somebody. And then he'd just guffaw after he made such a comment.

    NARRATOR: Angela Wright was Thomas' communications director.

    ANGELA WRIGHT: I think he really, really wanted to just sort of prove to conservative white people that he was their guy. He just took such pride in denigrating Black people. He is taking stereotypes and laughing at them and making white people feel comfortable in his presence because he's the first one to make the racial joke.

    JANE MAYER: He comes up with derogatory nicknames for people. He bullies some of the weaker people. He makes fun of them. He's supposed to be running an organization that protects, for instance, older people in the workplace, and he tells his underlings to get rid of an older guy in the office because he's too old. He says he's got one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

    ANGELA WRIGHT: There was a woman on his staff who was a little person, and I remember him specifically saying, forgive my language but this is what he said, "She got that big ass." Despite the fact that sexual harassment was against the law, people just let it roll off.

    NARRATOR: Eventually, Thomas fired Angela Wright. And Lillian McEwen concluded she'd had it with Clarence.

    LILLIAN McEWEN: I just couldn't tolerate it anymore. I didn't like what he was becoming. I didn't like the speeches that he was giving. I didn't like the positions that he was taking. I didn't like the embrace that he was getting from the most horrible people in the Republican Party. I couldn't tolerate it. This was his plan. This was his karma. This was how he wanted to go through the world. But I wanted nothing to do with it.

    Meet Cute

    NARRATOR: Ginni Lamp finally met the man of her dreams.

    People magazine, 1991

    Actor's voice

    ACTOR'S VOICE: We first met in the spring of 1986 at an affirmative action conference in New York City. Clarence was then EEOC chairman. I was a labor-relations attorney at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

    LAURA BLUMENFELD, The Washington Post, 1991-2012: When she sat in that meeting with him for the first time and saw him, what she saw, in her own words, was a powerful man.

    MIKE FLETCHER: And they kind of strike up a friendship at this conference. They're both there speaking. They get a cab together, and that kind of touches off this romance.

    LAURA BLUMENFELD: She shared a taxi with him to the airport. When she asked him, "How do you feel about being a Black man in the Reagan administration? How do you deal with critics?" And he pulled out his wallet and found and showed her the prayers that he recites every day that kind of fortify him.

    "My Grandfather's Son" by Clarence Thomas

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: Keep a clear eye toward life's end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God's creature.

    LAURA BLUMENFELD: She said it was a humbling experience, seeing a person who lived their values, their Christian values. For her, I think that was the moment of connection.

    NARRATOR: Just a few months later, Ginni and Clarence were engaged.

    KURT ANDERSEN, Author, Evil Geniuses: The whole thing is so improbable. It's a novel. It's a novel I wouldn't believe. It's just that these people in such dissimilar worlds end up getting together and being of such enormous political consequence. You can't make it up, it's so extraordinary.

    NARRATOR: But they had important similarities.

    JANE MAYER, Co-author, Strange Justice: Clarence Thomas is at odds with the Civil Rights Movement. He's against affirmative action. Ginni Thomas is at odds with the feminist movement and she's opposed to equal pay for women. In some ways, they really have a lot in common politically and in terms of sort of where they position themselves in sort of opposition to the politics of their own generation.

    NARRATOR: Soon, out in Omaha, Ginni Lamp became Ginni Thomas.

    STEPHEN F. SMITH, Fmr. clerk, Justice Thomas: When she got married to Justice Thomas back in Omaha, she didn't tell people that she was marrying a Black man. She just said, "I'm getting married." And so the guests show up at the wedding, and they're shocked that she's marrying a Black guy. And one of her relatives was quoted in The Washington Post as saying, "Well, we were surprised when he turned out to be Black. But you know, when we got to know him, he's so good to her, that it made up for him being Black." [Laughs] And so it was obvious this person, and maybe others, thought him being Black was a bad thing.

    NARRATOR: Those who knew him from his Black Power days at Holy Cross were also surprised.

    MICHAEL FLETCHER, Co-author, Supreme Discomfort: Thomas, when he was a student at Holy Cross, he was sort of adamantly opposed to interracial marriage. He thought that Black people should marry Black people and we should embrace as community. And he would even point out interracial couples.

    ORION DOUGLASS, Friend: I find it a little ironic that he evolved from that position to being married to a white lady. OK, well, that's how life does it. I never thought when he was at Holy Cross that he'd be part of Ronald Reagan's team also, but you follow the path that God puts before us, and I guess God sent him to Ginni, I don't know. I'll leave that up between them.

    Justice Thomas

    MALE NEWSREADER: A stunning decision at the Supreme Court: Thurgood Marshall announced his retirement from the Supreme Court today.

    MALE REPORTER: On a court that's leaning to the conservative right, his departure signals a major change for the court.

    RANDALL KENNEDY, Professor, Harvard Law School: The great Thurgood Marshall, Mr. Civil Rights, retires.

    THURGOOD MARSHALL: I'm old. I'm getting old and coming apart.

    FEMALE NEWSREADER: The search is on for a Supreme Court nominee with the retirement of Justice Thurgood Marshall.

    MALE NEWSREADER: Is the president expecting pressure to appoint another Black American?

    MALE REPORTER: You bet he is, Peter. I think that pressure is bound to be forthcoming.

    FEMALE NEWSREADER: The Washington rumor mill has gone into overdrive this morning trying to figure out -

    MALE NEWSREADER: President Bush said he would pick someone representative of all Americans.

    FEMALE NEWSREADER: But should that person be Black?

    PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, I am very pleased to announce that I will nominate Clarence Thomas to serve as associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.

    RANDALL KENNEDY: Clarence Thomas is nominated. Now, immediately, there's certain things that happen that get my attention. First, did race have anything to do with this?

    GEORGE H.W. BUSH: What I did was look for the best man. And the fact that he is Black and a minority has nothing to do with this in the sense that he is the best qualified at this time.

    RANDALL KENNEDY: Well, I mean, who believes that? Clarence Thomas stands to be one of the great beneficiaries in American life of affirmative action.

    NARRATOR: He was only 43 years old. He'd spent just one year as a federal appeals court judge. But he'd built a strong reputation as a conservative and strong connections with Washington Republicans.

    ORION DOUGLASS: He got that through networking. He was in the right place at the right time. He had the right support, people behind him. He was connected pretty well.

    MALE NEWSREADER: He had settled on the 43-year-old appeals court judge, Clarence Thomas.

    MALE NEWSREADER: - replacing the court's first and only African American with another African American.

    MALE NEWSREADER: Reaction has been flowing and ricocheting ever since.

    MALE NEWSREADER: Clarence Thomas is a self-made man with many self-made enemies.

    FEMALE NEWSREADER: Liberals have been scared about Clarence Thomas for years.

    FEMALE NEWSREADER: What impact will Clarence Thomas have on the high court?

    CLARENCE THOMAS: I thought I'd be able to sneak in.

    MALE REPORTER: Oh, sure -

    CLARENCE THOMAS: [Laughs] Yeah. Thanks.

    MALE REPORTER: Have a good day, sir.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: Thanks, now.

    MALE REPORTER: He could not have been prepared for the mob of still photographers, TV cameras, reporters, police and senators which engulfed him this morning.

    MALE NEWSREADER: It promises to be a political, ideological and cultural event of historic proportions.

    SEN. JOE BIDEN: The hearing will come to order. Good morning, judge. Welcome to the blinding lights.

    NINA TOTENBERG, NPR: The Democrats, politically, they were in a very difficult position. It's very difficult to attack an African American judge, and they wanted to befriend him, not attack him. Certainly that was true for Biden.

    JOE BIDEN: Heck, you're six, seven years younger than - I'm 48. How old are you, judge? 42-3?

    CLARENCE THOMAS: Well, I've aged over the last 10 weeks, [laughter] but I'm 43.

    JOE BIDEN: Forty-three years old.

    THEODORE OLSON, Solicitor General, Pres. G.W. Bush: He was advised - I know this - to be very careful, to be very modest. They're going to ask you about every controversial issue that has ever come before the Supreme Court.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: In the area of civil rights, I don't remember or recall participating -

    JANE MAYER: He's told to just basically sit there like a potted plant and don't say too much. It's insulting in a way, but he does what he's told.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: I think that to take a position would undermine my ability to be impartial.

    RANDALL KENNEDY: There did come a point at which people said, "Well, hold it. Maybe you don't know enough to be a justice."

    CLARENCE THOMAS: - would undermine my impartiality. - really undermine my ability to be impartial.

    RANDALL KENNEDY: It was just laughable.

    JANE MAYER: Clarence Thomas basically played the role so well as a cipher that he'd said things that seemed just on the surface very hard to believe, such as that he never, ever debated the Roe v. Wade decision.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: What I'm trying to do, senator, is to respond to your question and at the same time not offer a particular view on this difficult issue of abortion that would undermine my impartiality.

    MICHAEL FLETCHER: It plays into his fears, if you will. Because he's very sensitive, more than that, to how people perceive him. He worries about how people see him as a Black man, so that had to bother him.

    NARRATOR: But as the hearings concluded, it seemed like confirmation was imminent. Senator Jack Danforth had shepherded Thomas through the process.

    SEN. JACK DANFORTH (R-MO), 1976-95: I can remember thinking, "Well, we've got however many votes." There was no question that he was going to get confirmed. So we've got this. So it was, I just felt - I didn't feel threatened, that there was any threat at all.

    FEMALE NEWSREADER: Clarence Thomas ran into trouble today -

    MALE NEWSREADER: Questions are growing over charges of sexual harassment against Thomas -

    FEMALE NEWSREADER: The FBI did indeed interview Anita Hill, a former subordinate of Thomas' who -

    JILL ABRAMSON, Co-author, Strange Justice: The effect was to create chaos and a great deal of uncertainty about what would happen to Clarence Thomas' nomination.

    MALE NEWSREADER: - tonight with the potential for political explosion on Capitol Hill.

    JILL ABRAMSON: It was one of those explosions where no one in Washington knew what was going to happen, not even the White House.

    FEMALE NEWSREADER: Trouble today for Clarence Thomas, enough trouble that some senators are calling for a postponement of this week's confirmation vote.

    MALE NEWSREADER: These 11th-hour sexual harassment charges stunned Washington.

    MALE NEWSREADER: Hill emphasized she has nothing to gain by making allegations against Thomas and resents those who question her motives.

    JACK DANFORTH: I went out to his house. It was a big media stakeout outside of his house.

    MALE REPORTER: That was excellent. Excellent driving.

    JACK DANFORTH: And so, I went in. I have never had an experience like that. Ever. Still haven't. Because he was a broken man. He was just broken. He couldn't sleep, according to his wife. He was in a fetal position in bed. He couldn't eat. And it was - boy, I mean, to see somebody you care about suffering that much - and it was just, it was just terrible.

    "My Grandfather's Son" by Clarence Thomas

    CLARENCE THOMAS [reading]: I lay across the bed and curled up in a fetal position, tired beyond imagining. I felt like a marathon runner who had hit the wall. All my reserves were used up.

    FEMALE REPORTER: The stage is set for what everyone anticipates will be a brutal hearing.

    NARRATOR: Later that week, Anita Hill testified.

    MALE REPORTER: Now in the nation's Capitol and before the world, an emotional dispute of historic proportions.

    JOE BIDEN: Professor, do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

    ANITA HILL: I do.

    JOE BIDEN: Thank you.

    ANITA HILL: Mr. Chairman -

    NARRATOR: Thomas was at home.

    ANITA HILL: - members of the committee -

    NARRATOR: He told Ginni he wouldn't watch.

    ANITA HILL: My name is Anita F. Hill.

    NARRATOR: But she did.

    ANITA HILL: His conversations were very vivid. He spoke about acts that he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes.

    LINDA GREENHOUSE, The New York Times, 1978-2008: It was incredibly compelling television. She was gorgeous, composed, obviously projecting sincerity.

    ANITA HILL: On other occasions he referred to the size of his own penis as being larger than normal and he also spoke on some occasions of the pleasures he had given to women with oral sex. He said that if I ever told anyone of his behavior that it would ruin his career.

    MARC FISHER, The Washington Post: There's an anger and suspicion that washes over Ginni Thomas. She sees others attacking her husband, attacking her, attacking their core beliefs. She sees that outside world that's attacking her as something that needs to be beaten down, as something that needs to be destroyed.

    People magazine, 1991

    Actor's voice

    ACTOR'S VOICE: It was spiritual warfare. Good versus evil. We were fighting something we didn't understand. We needed God.

    JANE MAYER: It's a reprisal of the kind of ideology Ginni Thomas had from her Birch Society days. They regarded their opponents as enemies and practically Satanic. So she says, "You've got to fight. Fight back against these sort of evil tormentors."

    NARRATOR: That night, the Thomases traveled back to the Capitol, to Jack Danforth's office.

    SEN. ALAN SIMPSON (R-WY), 1979-97: We sat with Thomas. He - with Jack Danforth, Thomas. There weren't very many people in the room. And I just looked over and I said, "Did this happen?" He said, "I'm torn to bits. This didn't happen." And I told him my theory of political life: An attack unanswered is an attack believed. Not only that, but agreed to. And he was teary.

    JACK DANFORTH: I told him that he should go up and look at the senators, and Senator Ted Kennedy was on that program, and he should quote the Bible and he should say, "Judge not that you be not judged; condemn not that you be not condemned, senators." He wouldn't say that.

    NARRATOR: Thomas had something else in mind.

    JACK DANFORTH: He just sat there in my office. And it was darkened and it was quiet. That was when he said to me, "Jack, you know what this is? It's a lynching. It's a high-tech lynching." I said, "Clarence, if that's the way you feel, go up and say it."

    JOE BIDEN: The hearing will come to order.

    JILL ABRAMSON: Clarence Thomas had people standing behind him, first and foremost his wife, who by her presence made it obvious that she believed that these were lies. She had to be there.

    People magazine, 1991

    Actor's voice

    ACTOR'S VOICE: I felt such anger and revulsion looking at some of those senators. I was watching them and I felt like my eyes were laser beams. They wouldn't look at me. These little people. They seemed so small, and our purpose seemed so great.

    JOE BIDEN: Judge. Tough day and tough night for you, I know. Let me ask, do you have anything you'd like to say? Do you have anything you'd like to say?

    CLARENCE THOMAS: Senator, I would like to start by saying unequivocally, uncategorically, that I deny each and every single allegation against me today that suggested in any way that I had conversations of a sexual nature or about pornographic material with Anita Hill, that I ever attempted to date her, that I ever had any personal sexual interest in her or that I in anyway ever harassed her.

    MICHAEL FLETCHER: His testimony was very much sort of absolute. Again, stark black-and-white: Nope. I can't think of a way of reconciling the stories that wouldn't mean that someone perjured, but clearly someone lied.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: I think that this today is a travesty. I think that it is disgusting. I think something is dreadfully wrong with this country.

    GLENN LOURY, Friend: That's the real Clarence Thomas. "They've come for me at the jugular. And I'm a man. I am a man here before you. I'm furious about the way I'm being treated. You're going to do what you're going to do, but I'm going to hold a dignified line in defense of my integrity."

    CLARENCE THOMAS: This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. And from my standpoint as a Black American, as far as I'm concerned, it is a high-tech lynching. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.

    RANDALL KENNEDY: When everything was on the line, he knew what to say. "High-tech lynching." There are a lot of people who rush to his side. They disagree with him. They disagree with him about lots of things. But he blew that whistle and there were lots of Black people who immediately went to his side.

    LESTER JOHNSON, Friend: We're sitting there saying, give it to 'em Clarence. Give it to 'em. We done been here before. We had to live through this in Savannah. When they try to beat you down, what do you do? You fight back. That's the way we do it here. And so we were very proud of him and we were roaring him on.

    NARRATOR: In a moment, the politics had changed. Chairman Biden and the committee moved quickly.

    VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: On this vote the yeas are 52, and the nays are 48.

    NARRATOR: Within days, Clarence Thomas had realized his ambitions.

    DAN QUAYLE: The nomination of Clarence Thomas of Georgia is hereby confirmed.

    NARRATOR: A permanent seat on the United States Supreme Court. But he would never forget those who had opposed him.

    GLENN LOURY: He invited me to come and visit him in his chambers. And you know he - If I were a novelist, this is how I would paint the scene. He sits back in his chair, he puts his feet up on his desk, he takes a puff of a cigar and he says, "I'm going to be here forever. They've had their say; now, in my leisure, I will have my say. I'm here. I'm planted. They're going to have to deal with me. I'll be here forever." He was going to get his, as it were, revenge, simply by putting one foot in front of the other, day in, day out, year in and year out. "And they can make all the noise. They can scream like banshees. They can scream. But the fact of the matter is, I'm going to be writing those opinions."

    The Other Women

    ANITA HILL: He spoke about acts that he had seen in pornographic films -

    NARRATOR: The Anita Hill allegations would not go away.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: I deny each and every single allegation against me today.

    ANGELA WRIGHT, Fmr. Dir. of Communications, EEOC: Well, I'm just sitting there thinking - I'm just saying, "This man is a liar," is what I'm thinking. I'm thinking, lie, lie.

    NARRATOR: Biden's committee never called Angela Wright or a number of other witnesses to testify.

    ANITA HILL: The comments ranged from pressing me about why I didn't go out with him to remarks about my personal appearance.

    ANGELA WRIGHT: Anita Hill is probably telling the truth, because I can remember him asking me what size my boobs were, asking me about going out with him, even though I had expressed no interest in going out with him.

    JANE MAYER: There were other women, and they didn't get a chance to testify. There was the speechwriter, the older woman, Rose Jourdain, who talked to Angela Wright about her experiences. There was a woman named Kaye Savage who was willing to describe that she'd gone to Clarence Thomas' apartment and that he had a huge interest in pornography.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: I deny that I had conversations about pornographic material with Anita Hill.

    NARRATOR: Watching as well: Lillian McEwen, who dated Thomas during his time at the EEOC.

    LILLIAN McEWEN: Clarence is one of those guys who look at women as sexual objects. That's it. And he doesn't bother to hide it.

    ANITA HILL: He talked about pornographic material depicting individuals with large penises or large breasts.

    LILLIAN McEWEN: He had stacks of magazines with pictures of genitalia and also women's huge breasts. That was pretty much what was - men's and women's genitalia. [Laughs] That was pretty much what his collection consisted of.

    NARRATOR: For others, it was the little details that stood out.

    ANITA HILL: He went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, "Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?"

    GORDON DAVIS, Holy Cross classmate: I heard him say that before. He said it before. We were in the Hogan Campus Center. And a group of us Black students were walking by and he says, "Oh, look. Is that pubic hair on a Coke can?" Those were the exact words he used then. And I heard it later on, when Anita Hill spoke it. So I believe what she said. She was telling the truth.

    MICHAEL FLETCHER: He liked adult films. He made jokes. Thomas was inappropriate and things like that, that all stack up on Anita Hill's side of the ledger. So you know, I think if I had to say who lied, it was Thomas.

    JANE MAYER: Both Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas were under oath. So one of them was perjuring themselves. And the problem was, if the person who was lying was Clarence Thomas, it was someone who was going to be one of nine of the most important judges in America for the rest of his life and for decades to come. Somebody with enormous unchecked power. Somebody who could decide the fate of many, many other people. So much was hanging in the balance. And it has ever since.

    With Friends Like These

    NARRATOR: Clarence Thomas had prevailed. But he saw his accomplishment questioned, even dismissed, once again.

    GLENN LOURY: Immediately after that confirmation in the early 1990s, I can remember some of these commentators dismissing him, writing him off, giving him the back of his hand, calling him second-rate, stupid, incompetent, venal and whatever.

    FEMALE COMMENTATOR: There are other Black Americans that are out there, that are qualified, that are bright -

    FEMALE COMMENTATOR: And I don't think he's qualified. I think he's a second-rate jurist and an opportunist and not totally honest about a lot of things.

    NARRATOR: In those early years, Thomas was overshadowed by another conservative justice: Antonin Scalia.

    KEVIN MERIDA, Exec. Editor, Los Angeles Times: You have Scalia, who is this gregarious, big, large figure as the dominant conservative on the court.

    JOHN BOLTON, Yale Law classmate: Look, Scalia cast a giant shadow because he was Nino Scalia. He was one of the most powerful intellects ever to sit on the United States Supreme Court.

    KEVIN MERIDA: Many people looked at Thomas as kind of Scalia light. Somebody that was not - did not have the heft and the intellectual firepower and the ability to debate.

    NARRATOR: Thomas told people he stopped reading mainstream news. Instead, he relied on two primary sources: his wife and Rush Limbaugh.

    RUSH LIMBAUGH: Greetings, and welcome back. Rush Limbaugh - I knew he didn't do it. I knew Clarence Thomas didn't do it. Anita Hill's stories about Clarence Thomas were not true.

    STEPHEN F. SMITH, Clerk, Justice Thomas: He would listen to Rush Limbaugh as he was doing a long commute, and he would have court staff tape-record it, so he could listen to it when he was commuting.

    RUSH LIMBAUGH: Your attempt to assuage all of your white guilt by supporting Obama is worthless because you know he's not a real Black. If any race of people should not have guilt about slavery, it's Caucasians.

    NARRATOR: The two became close friends.

    RUSH LIMBAUGH: The fear was Clarence Thomas is confirmed, he then becomes the most powerful, influential Black man in America, and he's not a Democrat and he's not a liberal.

    NARRATOR: Thomas even presided over one of Limbaugh's weddings.

    RANDALL KENNEDY: Throughout his career, he's been willing to do things that were certainly eyebrow-raising. Justice Thomas seemed to relish his close relationship with Rush Limbaugh as a way of giving the finger to people who he didn't like.

    RUSH LIMBAUGH: A misogynist is a guy who hates women almost as much as women hate women.

    NARRATOR: Thomas was establishing his place in the world of white conservative Republicans.

    GORDON DAVIS: He found another group to accept him. He found the conservatives. He found the powerful. He found the rich. He found all these other people who will accept him. And not necessarily because they like him, but because he's powerful.

    NARRATOR: One of those wealthy conservatives was Harlan Crow.

    JUSTIN ELLIOTT, ProPublica: Harlan Crow has given millions of dollars to Republican candidates, and Crow has taken a special interest in funding groups that are involved specifically in trying to shape the law and the courts, trying to sort of push the law in a conservative direction.

    NARRATOR: Their friendship was commemorated with a painting.

    JOSHUA KAPLAN, ProPublica: This was a painting that Harlan Crow commissioned. We have Clarence Thomas and Harlan Crow both smoking cigars, and across from them is Leonard Leo. Leonard Leo is one of the leaders of the Federalist Society. He is widely regarded as a principal architect of the Supreme Court and the judiciary's turn to the right.

    NARRATOR: Crow even helped fund a documentary that aired on PBS promoting Thomas as a humble man. "Created Equal" film

    GINNI THOMAS: One of Clarence's biggest loves is when he can get away from Washington, D.C., and be on the road in his motorhome.

    CLARENCE THOMAS: You know, I don't have any problem with going to Europe, but I prefer the United States. I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots. I come from regular stock, and I prefer that. I prefer being around that.

    NARRATOR: But out of the public eye, Thomas was living a very different life.

    JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Harlan Crow has been taking Clarence Thomas on luxury vacations, really around the world, for more than 20 years. So we're talking flights on his private jet, cruises on his very, very large yacht in places like Indonesia and New Zealand, stays at Harlan Crow's resort up in the Adirondacks. Compared to somebody that's a partner at a big D.C. law firm that might be making two or three million a year, these Supreme Court justices are paupers. Thomas could not afford to take the kinds of vacations that Crow is taking him on.

    NARRATOR: Crow has denied any wrongdoing, and Thomas says he wasn't required to disclose who paid for the trips, which were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    JOSHUA KAPLAN: It shows that he is comfortable accepting largesse at a scale that has no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

    NARRATOR: And Crow paid more than $6,000 a month for Thomas' grandnephew to attend private boarding schools. Crow also purchased Thomas' childhood home directly from him and other relatives.

    JOSHUA KAPLAN: After Crow bought Thomas' mother's house, she continued to live there for about going on 10 years now, which obviously puts Crow in the rather unusual position of being the landlord, effectively, to a sitting Supreme Court justice's mother.

    NARRATOR: Crow even gave a Ginni Thomas' conservative advocacy group $500,000. It paid her a salary of $120,000.

    JUSTIN ELLIOTT: When you have a friendship, even if it's a genuine friendship, and there's an enormous amount of money being spent by one party on gifts and real estate deals, that pushes the relationship into a totally different light.

    NARRATOR: Crow and Thomas described their relationship as a normal friendship. But their ties have raised questions about the high court's independence, and Thomas' opinions have often been in line with the conservative politics of his friends. In Gore v. Bush, he provided one of the crucial five votes for delivering the White House to the Republicans.

    RUSH LIMBAUGH: The Democrat Party accused the Supreme Court of being rigged for Bush -

    NARRATOR: He insisted that key parts of the Voting Rights Act were unconstitutional.

    RUSH LIMBAUGH: The end of a key element of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    NARRATOR: He argued against laws regulating guns -

    RUSH LIMBAUGH: What do Democrats want? Your guns.

    NARRATOR: He called for the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

    RUSH LIMBAUGH: Roses are red, violets are blue, see you later, I aborted you.

    NARRATOR: And on one of his most personal issues, he declared he would ban affirmative action.

    RUSH LIMBAUGH: Affirmative action is not equality. Clarence Thomas, what a godsend. You give me a country run by Clarence Thomas and I would sign up for it tomorrow.

    NARRATOR: The closer Thomas aligned with the conservative world, the greater the divide with the politics and perspective of the world he'd grown up in.

    ORION DOUGLASS: Look, he voted against the Voting Rights Act. We grew up in Savannah when King was marching and struggling and dying to pass the Voting Rights Act. How can the African American community - how are they to perceive it? And why would he do it? I say the overall opinion in the African American community was he's no longer us, he's them.

    RANDALL KENNEDY: In many parts of Black America he is not celebrated. In fact, in much of Black America, just the opposite - he's derided. His name stands for something. To "pull a Clarence Thomas," that means something. To pull a Clarence Thomas means to use your Blackness to reach a high place and then turn your back on it. That is to pull a Clarence Thomas. Gosh, he knows that, and he cannot be happy with that.

    GLENN LOURY: You want to be thought of as a good Black man or woman, not as a traitor, or a turncoat, a sellout. On the other hand, the idea that I will think for myself and I won't be told what to think just because of the color of my skin is one that very powerfully animated Clarence Thomas. If somebody's going to tell me I'm not Black because thinking for myself I arrived at certain conclusions that they didn't like - you question my authenticity? You question my legitimacy? I take umbrage at that. I don't appreciate that.

    Warrior Woman

    ANSWERING MACHINE VOICE: Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system. At the tone, please record your message.

    GINNI THOMAS [on voicemail recording]: Good morning. Anita Hill, it's Ginni Thomas. And I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.

    NARRATOR: It had been nearly two decades since the confirmation hearings.

    GINNI THOMAS [on voicemail recording]: So give it some thought. I certainly pray about this and hope that one day you'll help us understand why you did what you did. OK! Have a good day.

    NARRATOR: Ginni Thomas had been rising inside the Republican Party.

    KURT ANDERSEN: Republican politics keep moving toward her, and it keeps moving right. And there she is, right where it's moving each step along the way.

    DAN RATHER: The Republican revolution of Election '94 moved the whole political landscape sharply to the right.

    NARRATOR: When hard-right Republicans seized control of the House, Ginni became an aide to one of the leaders - Dick Armey.

    REP. DICK ARMEY (R-TX), 1985-2003: She shared my values, my beliefs and my understanding of the world.

    NARRATOR: They called him "Dr. No."

    DICK ARMEY: I enjoy calling the left down. They're a bunch of damn clowns. I think they should be mocked and ridiculed. And I think they should be given no deference whatsoever. They're foolish and selfish.

    GINNI THOMAS: We the people!

    NARRATOR: Years later, as the Tea Party rose up, Ginni Thomas, the pep rally warrior woman, cheered them on.

    GINNI THOMAS: They think they can intimidate you. They think they can demoralize you.

    JANE MAYER: Ginni Thomas seems to absolutely adore the Tea Party movement.

    GINNI THOMAS: Are you going to be intimidated?

    CROWD: No!

    GINNI THOMAS: Me either. Are you going to be demoralized?

    CROWD: No!

    GINNI THOMAS: Me either. I'm going to find -

    JANE MAYER: These are people who are ordinary people rising up in anger against the government. It's very much kind of an echo of the same strain in American politics that she grew up in, in the John Birch Society. And these become her people.

    GINNI THOMAS: And they say a storm was coming. They ain't seen nothin' yet, right? Woo!

    STEPHEN F. SMITH, Fmr. clerk, Justice Thomas: As Republicanism itself has changed and gotten more nationalistic, and more populist, and more aggressive, and, in my view, less defensible, she's sort of blown with those winds as well.

    MARC FISHER: While her husband was very limited in what he could do or say politically, she saw herself as having more running room, more freedom to get out there and play a hands-on role in rallying and organizing conservatives. She saw herself as on the same mission as her husband but in a much more partisan, political, hands-on, practical kind of way.

    CROWD [chanting]: Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!

    LAURA BLUMENFELD: She came to Washington hoping to run for Congress and she found another path to power. She's fully committed to politics. She's fully committed to her beliefs and her agenda. She's going to make a difference in the world. She just had to find a different way.

    Voice of Ginni Thomas

    GINNI THOMAS: We're up against a very big battle. There may be some dark days ahead. I know there's dark days ahead.

    Right-Wing Royalty

    CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS: Please raise your right hand and repeat after me: I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear -

    NARRATOR: Clarence and Ginni Thomas' power reached a new level when Donald Trump was elected president.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice and rage. They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.

    JANE MAYER: Donald Trump is a divider who very much like Ginni Thomas sort of sees America's political divisions as fights, wars, good versus evil.

    DONALD TRUMP: The radical left are trying to rip our nation apart.

    Voice of Ginni Thomas

    GINNI THOMAS: We're up against a fascist left, and so this is a battle. They're coming for my husband. They're coming for President Trump.

    JANE MAYER: What's interesting is she became a voice for pushing Trump even further to the right.

    Voice of Ginni Thomas GINNI THOMAS: May we all have guns and concealed carry to handle what's coming by the way.

    MALE ANNOUNCER: Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court of the United States and Mrs. Virginia Thomas.

    NARRATOR: In the Trump White House, the Thomases were honored guests. And now, after the death of Justice Scalia, it was Clarence Thomas who was feted as a hero of MAGA Republicans.

    STEPHEN F. SMITH: With Scalia's passing, the attention just started focusing on Thomas. People are paying more attention, particularly on the right, to what Thomas is saying, and seeing that, as those of us who know him always knew, he's his own man.

    NARRATOR: Trump moved to secure Thomas' hold on the court, appointing three new conservative justices.

    DONALD TRUMP: I will nominate Judge Neil Gorsuch, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

    JANE MAYER: This gave Clarence Thomas, for the first time in all the time he'd been on the court, a group of justices who would side with him, and it gave him power. He became kind of the leader in many ways of the conservative wing of the court, and the conservative wing of the court ruled. They would have normally called it the Roberts Court, but everybody began to see it as the Thomas Court.

    NARRATOR: Ginni Thomas was expanding her own influence, too. She had direct access to the White House to lobby the administration.

    MARK JOSEPH STERN, Slate magazine: It's no secret that Ginni Thomas wields power because of who her husband is. She gets doors opened for her. She gets invited into the important rooms, into the important discussions, because her husband is Clarence Thomas.

    KURT ANDERSEN: Here's Ginni being Phyllis Schlafly, but at the center of things, of power in Washington. Phyllis Schlafly never had the person-to-person political, on-the-ground influence, I think, and centrality that Ginni Thomas has carved out for herself.

    NARRATOR: But then, the 2020 election.

    MALE NEWSREADER: The Fox News Decision Desk can now project that former Vice President Joe Biden will win Pennsylvania and Nevada.

    FEMALE NEWSREADER: He is President-elect Joseph Robinette Biden -

    MALE NEWSREADER: - become the 46th president of the United States.

    MARK JOSEPH STERN: Ginni is absolutely shattered. She's upset in a way that is very sincere and genuine. She truly believes that Joe Biden is a force of immense evil who is going to destroy America. Remember, Joe Biden presided over Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings, so Ginni views Biden not just as any regular presidential candidate, but as almost a personal enemy.

    DONALD TRUMP: We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.

    NARRATOR: As MAGA protesters were taking to the streets, Ginni Thomas was working from the inside. She texted messages to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

    Actor's voice

    ACTOR'S VOICE [reading Ginni Thomas text]: Do not concede. It takes time for the army who is gathering for his back. You guys fold, the evil just moves fast down underneath you all.

    DENVER RIGGLEMAN, Adviser, Jan. 6th Committee: In those text messages, it's not just texting Mark Meadows. It's saying that she could send emails to Jared Kushner. It's that she was working directly with congressional staffs. All of that is revealed.

    NARRATOR: Denver Riggleman was a former Republican congressman and investigator for the Jan. 6 Committee. He helped uncover the text messages.

    DENVER RIGGLEMAN: By the first text message I knew that we had an issue, right? She's referring to a bizarre conspiracy theorist who talked about this incredible operation where the Biden crime family should go to Gitmo. And I just - I had to read it about 10 times.

    Actor's voice

    ACTOR'S VOICE [reading Ginni Thomas text]: Biden crime family and ballot fraud co-conspirators are being arrested and detained for ballot fraud right now and over coming days, and will be living in barges off Gitmo to face military tribunals for sedition.

    MARK JOSEPH STERN: Ginni had something of a break with reality, because even though we've seen her say a lot of stuff that's out there, we had not until this point seen her promote conspiracy theories on the level of QAnon with such vigor and certitude.

    ACTOR'S VOICE [reading Ginni Thomas text]: Make a plan. Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down.

    NARRATOR: Riggleman is convinced Justice Thomas had to know what his wife was doing, even though the couple has said they keep their work lives separate.

    DENVER RIGGLEMAN: When you have the wife of a Supreme Court justice who's - who they both have called each other their best friends and said that they do everything together, it would defy common sense to think that they weren't discussing this.

    Actor's voice

    ACTOR'S VOICE [reading Ginni Thomas text]: This is spiritual warfare, as you must feel, Mark! It is about America continuing and this lonely leader and man! We are living through what feels like the end of America. Amazing times. The end of liberty?

    STEPHEN F. SMITH: She has this very dark, Manichaean view. You're either good or you're evil. And everything is a battle between good and evil. And no wonder, then, she advocates extreme steps in her texts to Mark Meadows, because for her, the battle between Biden and Trump, just like the battle between Republicans and Democrats or anything, it's good versus evil. We're good. They're evil.

    PROTESTERS [chanting]: Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

    NARRATOR: On the morning of Jan. 6, as Trump supporters gathered, Ginni Thomas was there among the crowd - posting on Facebook.


    It's unprecedented and extraordinary that the wife of a Supreme Court justice, one of nine who's on the court for life, that she was basically advocating for the overthrow of democracy in America.

    ACTOR'S VOICE [reading Ginni Thomas text]: God bless each of you standing up or praying!

    PROTESTERS [chanting]: Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

    JANE MAYER: I mean, it's a scary thought. It's a dangerous-feeling situation.

    NARRATOR: Not long after Ginni Thomas says she left, Trump supporters breached the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election.

    Oyez, Oyez, Oyez

    SCOTUS CLERK: Oyez, oyez, oyez. The Supreme Court of the United States is now sitting.

    NARRATOR: Clarence Thomas' prominence on the Supreme Court continues to grow.

    MARK JOSEPH STERN: Just as Trump is leaving office, Thomas is coming into his own and commanding a true majority on the court.

    MALE NEWSREADER: And once again the stakes are enormously high. Clarence Thomas and his fellow conservatives are set to dominate on issues like affirmative action, voting rights, religion, free speech -

    MARK JOSEPH STERN: The Thomas Court is not just extremely conservative, but extremely uninterested in concepts of judicial restraints and respect for precedent. The Thomas Court is in a hurry to shift the law rapidly to the right.

    MALE NEWSREADER: The conservative majority, by a 6-to-3 vote, overturning Roe v. Wade, the right to choose abortion.

    NARRATOR: The Thomas Court has overturned nearly 50 years of precedent on abortion.

    RANDALL KENNEDY: He's been very disciplined, very persistent, and over the years has really pulled the court over towards the right and has become extremely influential in American legal circles. I don't think - I must say, I don't that think people would have thought that he would be able to pull that off, and he has.

    MALE NEWSREADER: It's a court with an energized conservative majority that's already demonstrated it is ready and willing to overturn decades of precedent and settled law.

    NARRATOR: Now the court is facing a decision on an issue that has hovered around Clarence Thomas his entire life.

    FEMALE NEWSREADER: - challenging the use of race in college admissions, which could have an impact on affirmative action.

    JANE MAYER: If you look at where the Supreme Court is right now, in many ways it's implementing the political agenda and imposing the views of people like Clarence Thomas and Ginni Thomas. Some people might call it payback. Others might call it the fulfillment of his dreams.

    NARRATOR: Clarence and Ginni Thomas had arrived at the pinnacle of American power, but they brought with them the divisions, grievances and the bitter approach to politics that had shaped them.

    MALE NEWSREADER: We already know too little about Clarence Thomas and Ginni Thomas' entanglements -

    NARRATOR: The controversy continuing to follow them.

    FEMALE NEWSREADER: Clarence Thomas has refused to recuse himself from Supreme Court cases related to Trump and the election.

    GLENN LOURY: It'll just roll off his back like water off of a duck's back. "They're out to get me. They're going to use anything they can to get me. I've got a very clear view of where I'm trying to go and what I'm trying to do and I'm not going to look left or right."

    MALE NEWSREADER: Ginni Thomas has publicly denied any conflict of interest between her activism and her husband's work.

    NARRATOR: Their personal scandals -

    MALE NEWSREADER: In Clarence Thomas' case, this is not the first ethics incident, even in recent years.

    NARRATOR: - now fueling doubts about the legitimacy of the court itself.

    FEMALE NEWSREADER: - the Supreme Court trust hitting an all-time low.

    MALE NEWSREADER: The court no longer has the confidence of the American people because of its own behavior.

    FEMALE NEWSREADER: - and that is something that hurts the institution of the Supreme Court.

    MALE NEWSREADER: What is troubling is, what happens to a democracy when the people don't trust the Supreme Court anymore?

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