- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 7, 2004


Clarence Thomas has been interviewed by White House lawyers as a possible choice to be the next chief justice of the United States, says the author of a new biography.

Justice Thomas says he isn’t interested, but he could find it hard to turn down an opportunity to be the first black man to lead the Supreme Court, biographer Ken Foskett said.

“Judging Thomas” — out this week from William Morrow — traces Justice Thomas’ life from rough beginnings in rural Georgia, through Yale Law School to his life today.

Justice Thomas initially refused Mr. Foskett’s request for interviews, but later spoke to the author both on and off the record.

Although friendly and outgoing in person, Justice Thomas almost never says a word during the court’s oral arguments and is considered among the most private of the nine justices, Mr. Foskett said.

“I think people would be surprised to know that Thomas knows everyone in the building by first name,” Mr. Foskett said.

Justice Thomas has recovered from his bitter 1991 confirmation hearings, and is comfortable in his role on the court as a conservative iconoclast, Mr. Foskett said.

Whether he is elevated to chief justice “all depends on [President] Bush being re-elected,” Mr. Foskett said.

Justice Thomas’ promotion to the court’s top job also would depend on the exit of his boss, 79-year-old Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

Justice Rehnquist is not expected to retire before the November presidential election, but might do so in a second Bush term. The White House has a short list of candidates for any vacancy, and has presumably interviewed several potential nominees to succeed him.

White House spokeswoman Erin Healy would not comment. “There are no vacancies on the court at this time,” she said.

Nominating Justice Thomas would guarantee a rancorous Senate confirmation battle and a reprise of lurid charges of sexual harassment involving former employee Anita Hill.

Those tawdry details still probably define Justice Thomas for most people, and he knows his conservative views and opposition to affirmative action make him unpopular with the black civil rights establishment, Mr. Foskett said.

Justice Thomas denies he is a curiosity.

“I do not understand this interest in me,” he wrote to Mr. Foskett in 2002. “Perhaps some are confused because they have stereotypes of how blacks should be, and I respectfully decline, as I did in my youth, to sacrifice who I am for who they think I should be.”

Justice Thomas also noted that he is writing his own life story, for which he has since collected a $1.5 million advance. The whopping book deal surprised Justice Thomas, but he is having the last laugh, Mr. Foskett wrote.

“Without Hill’s allegations a decade earlier and the thrashing from liberals ever since, he never would have commanded such an extraordinary sum for his life story,” Mr. Foskett wrote.

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