Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

The Clarence Thomas Nomination

BRAUN: But I was going to leave, again I mean, I was going to go into the private sector and that's when the first President Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court. And, again, going back and reflecting on how important Thurgood Marshall had been, how important the Warren Court was, that my whole life would not have been possible had it not been for the whole series of cases that the Warren Court decided, everything starting with Hansberry v. Lee — you know, Lorraine Hansberry's parents' home started the housing desegregation; that was in the neighborhood near the high school that I attended, so Hansberry v. Lee — Brown v. Board, you've mentioned, Loving v. Virginia. I was in an interracial marriage, I mean, so you go — just everything along the way, you know, the Court was that kind of important in my own personal life, not just in kind of esoteric theoretical grounds. It was something that was very personal and I remember having — I wrote to my Senator, both Senator [Alan] Dixon and Senator [Paul] Simon and there was no question but Senator Simon was going to oppose the nomination.

Alan Dixon, however, was from — and by the way, both the senators were from the southern part of the state so it wasn't like it was a North-South kind of thing, even though Illinois very much has kind of that divide, if you will. It wasn't North-South because Paul was clear that he was going to resist the Thomas nomination. Alan, on the other hand, was being more coy about it and wouldn't tell people what he was going to do really, and the suspicion was he was going to support Thomas, but it wasn't — so I remember even having a conversation because he heard that there were a group of us out there just so outraged, particularly after the Anita Hill thing happened; I'd been against — in fact, I had done a television program before we knew about Anita Hill. I had done two of them opposing the Thomas nomination and saying, you know, we can do better for the Supreme Court. This is not a replacement for Thurgood Marshall, and then the Senate took a break.

There was the hiatus, as you recall, and then the Anita Hill allegations were made and when that happened, that just was just salt in the wound or fuel in the fire, and I remember having a face-to-face, one-on-one conversation with Senator Dixon and saying to him, you know, "You can't support this nomination. It will be a slap in the face to every woman, everybody, every black person, everybody who's supported you up until now. It will absolutely be contrary to our interests and send a horrible signal for young people who are Democrats that this party does not have its moral compass in good working order, that this party does not stand on the high ground when it comes to issues of civil rights." Well, he kind of, you know, he was known — I mean, the man's still alive, so I don't mean to disparage him, but he was known as "Al the Pal," right? He was always, "Hi, how're you doing?" and so he gave me, "Oh, you know, don't worry about it," dah dah dah, and then he turned around and voted for Clarence Thomas and then went away for a couple of days, or his phones were shut off for a few days, and the women just went crazy.