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THE PRIVATE WORLD OF JUSTICE THOMAS
He moves through the court’s marble halls, down the gleaming white steps and out onto First Street NE, shaking hands with passersby whose faces light up when they recognize him from TV.
from those awful weeks in 1991.
Justice Clarence Thomas does not hide, does not assume the frozen smile of a politician ignoring catcalls. He strides onto the sidewalk.
laughs with security guards, stops to wave when guys in work shirts honk their horns.
Thomas is, in the minds of some, the Silent Justice, the Haunted Man, enemy of the civil rights establishment.
the definition of embitterment. Across an ideological divide, he is a hero, a victim, a tool, a sentinel of hope.
He is a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
who speaks openly about following “God’s law.” He is a symbol of the ’90s battle in the war between the sexes
— a man brought low by a woman but saved by his fellow men;
a cartoon character twisted by the awkward prism of the media; a symbol of black power who recoils at the very concept of racial distinctions in law.
Thomas is, in the public mind, part of a permanent pair
Thomas’s friends say he never mentions Anita Hill — the law professor who accused him of sexual harassment.
— except once or twice when he has asked supporters not to lambaste her in public. But like Masters and Johnson, Nichols and May, or Lucy and Desi,
Thomas and Hill, though long since decoupled, are stuck with each other forever.
As a result, Thomas is perhaps the only Supreme Court justice
who might be recognized in the checkout line at the Giant. The court gift shop has trouble keeping his picture in stock.
We know more about Thomas than about all of his colleagues combined.
And yet he is routinely referred to as a mystery.
known largely through his controversial legal opinions and occasional public remarks.
Last term, his fourth on the court, Thomas started limbering up his legal muscles, helping to solidify a conservative majority intent on curbing the government’s use of racial classifications.
Thomas is said to be raring to renew that effort when the court reconvenes Oct. 2.
Thomas’s opinions in cases that rolled back federal affirmative action programs
and rejected a Kansas City school desegregation plan have unleashed a new riptide of protest from the left.
from those who do not believe Clarence Thomas should be on the bench. Tomorrow, the Rev. Al Sharpton.
and other ministers plan to protest outside the secluded Fairfax house Thomas shares with his wife, Virginia, and two black Labrador retrievers. They are calling it a prayer vigil.
The justice will pay them no mind. Of that, his friends are certain
In fact, Thomas — according to several dozen friends, co-workers and allies — has constructed a world apart from his critics.
a private existence in which his public forays are carefully crafted by loyal friends. With rare exceptions, Thomas will not speak to reporters (he declined to be interviewed for this article).
and he sees no point in confronting his detractors. It will be enough, he says, merely to outlast them. Like Clockwork.
and no longer reads the Washington Times either.
He rarely watches TV news, depending largely on his assistants and friends for verbal news briefings.
Thomas is often on his way to court by 5:30 a.m.
cruising along Interstate 66 in his black Corvette IROC (named for the International Race of Champions, an annual stock-car event) with black-tinted windows.
“He drives like a turtle,” one friend says. “He obeys every speed limit.”
Friends expect calls from Thomas any time after 6 a.m. He’ll trade banter for 30 minutes, an hour, shifting quickly from sports talk to political chat.
from praise for a fine singer to chuckles about a backyard mishap. “When you get a call from him,” says Paul Weyrich.
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chairman of the Free Congress Foundation and a friend of Thomas, “you should be prepared to talk a while.”
At the court, Thomas, who is 46, runs himself through a workout in the top-floor gym, mostly by lifting weights and shooting hoops. He plays against himself.
He’s in his chambers by 9. When court sessions don’t keep him in town
Thomas is out the door around 1 p.m., unless he’s meeting someone for lunch at the Monocle on Capitol Hill.
He listens to Rush Limbaugh on the radio — one of his few mass media sources. He’ll continue to work at home, wired into the office by computer.
fax and phone. Once a week, he has a private workout at the University Club on 16th Street NW.
he is the first to have a home office so well-equipped that he can do virtually anything without coming into the city. He often communicates with his clerks by fax.
When court is in session, he is finished with his work around sundown and might watch a ballgame on TV while nursing a Macanudo cigar, play with his dogs or read journal articles before retiring around 8:30 p.m.
It takes a big event to keep Thomas up past 10:
the State of the Union address or an appearance by his Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football. (Thomas is so huge a fan .
that he has a Super Bowl ring given to him by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones; when Dallas plays at RFK Stadium, Thomas sits in Jones’s box.
The justice previews each game in marathon Friday phone sessions with friends; has attended Cowboys training camp; and subscribes to Cowboys Update.
a 24-hour fax service for the most fanatic of fans.)
On Sundays, the justice rests. Church in the morning
(Truro Episcopal in Fairfax) with his wife, basketball or football on TV in the afternoon, sometimes a fishing trip with House Majority Leader Dick Armey .
(R-Tex.) or another political pal. Thomas spends long hours on garden and yard projects (he is sometimes sighted at Hechinger, buying supplies),
“burns” chicken or ribs on the grill, listens to tapes of Shirley Caesar, gospel and country music.
On the rare occasion when the justice attends an evening social function, he likes to leave early; when he doesn’t,
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he has been known to nod off at the dinner table. (Virginia is often out later; her job, committee liaison for Armey, requires it.) Friends know not to call the Thomas house after 8 p.m.
The justice is a strong believer in aiming for eight hours of sleep per night. “Mental, physical and spiritual wellness,” he tells friends, “each is important.” A Close Circle of Friends”
Are you going to do another job on him?
is the first line out of former senator John C. Danforth when asked about Thomas. Soothed with promises of fairness.
Danforth describes a friend who has emerged from “a terribly scarring experience as a person who is not going to let the fact that he has detractors interfere with his life.
There’s been a relentless pursuit of Clarence Thomas. Maybe there’s never going to be an end to it. But he remains absolutely himself. He is a very big, very decent human being.”