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FRONTLINE traces the ‘ambition and revenge’ driving SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas : NPR


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That is FRESH AIR. I am Dave Davies.

U.S. Supreme Court docket Justice Clarence Thomas is essentially the most senior member of the Conservative supermajority that now dominates the court docket, giving him a degree of affect he’d by no means seen in his 32 years as an affiliate justice. However controversy has swirled round Thomas and his spouse, Ginni, in current weeks, with revelations by the investigative information web site ProPublica {that a} conservative Texas billionaire has lavished Thomas with costly holidays and different monetary advantages for a few years, advantages that had been by no means reported on Thomas’ monetary disclosure varieties. These advantages included journeys on non-public jets and a luxurious yacht, the acquisition of and renovations to the house Clarence Thomas’ mom lives in and personal faculty tuition for a grandnephew of Clarence Thomas.

Our visitor at present is veteran filmmaker Michael Kirk, who’s the director, co-writer and co-producer of a brand new “Frontline” documentary in regards to the lives and formative influences on Clarence and Ginni Thomas and their paths to energy in Washington. Michael Kirk was the unique senior producer of the PBS “Frontline” documentary sequence within the Eighties. He is written and directed greater than 100 hours of “Frontline” documentaries and has gained 4 Peabody Awards, 4 duPont-Columbia Awards, two George Polk Awards and 16 Emmy Awards. His new documentary titled “Clarence And Ginni Thomas: Politics, Energy And The Supreme Court docket” is on the market to stream at no cost on YouTube, “Frontline’s” web site and within the PBS app.

Michael Kirk, welcome again to FRESH AIR.

MICHAEL KIRK: It is nice to be right here, Dave. Thanks for having me.

DAVIES: So let’s discuss, you already know, the early lifetime of Clarence Thomas. You realize, it is arduous to witness the hardship that he suffered as a baby and never have some sympathy for him. He was born in Pin Level, Ga. Inform us in regards to the group and his relationship together with his household in these early years.

KIRK: Pin Level is on the outskirts of Savannah, Ga. That is Savannah, Ga., within the Nineteen Fifties as Clarence is rising up – very Jim Crow South, very racist undercurrents in every thing Clarence would have completed coming from Pin Level into Savannah and even in Pin Level, which was largely a fishing village. The overwhelming majority of individuals there are Black. They communicate a sort of dialect of people that had been slaves – that had slavery imposed on all of them these generations in the past. And it is a sort of dialect known as Geechee – Gullah Geechee. And it has a bit of little bit of a French taste, nearly like Creole down in Louisiana. He lived in regards to the worst sort of life you would think about for a bit of child, even in that point – poverty, a father who was gone, so a fatherless life, mom barely scraping by, and never even, actually, in plenty of methods.

And Clarence and his little brother had been – that lived in – simply the best way Clarence describes it in his e-book, which we use sections from, it – simply horrible – no operating water, no bathroom within the place they lived. And on high of the Jim Crow components of the white racism, there was additionally, as we found, sort of to my shock, this concept that his pals speak in regards to the concept of racism contained in the Black group as being much more corrosive than white racism within the – on the streets of Savannah, ‘trigger you would keep away from it in case you did not go into Savannah. However in your neighborhood, in case you had been very Black, and as he describes himself, with a broad nostril and curly hair, you had been topic to failing what they known as the brown-bag check. And the children simply mocked him with the cruelest insult they may give you, which was ABC – America’s Blackest Baby.

DAVIES: So sooner or later, you report that his mother gave the boys up. She merely could not handle it. And so they went to dwell with their grandfather, additionally in Savannah, who was much less poor. However it was a tough life in different methods. Inform us about that.

KIRK: Her father was a troublesome man, additionally carried lots of the racism in regards to the inner racism contained in the Black world of Savannah and Pin Level, ran a gas oil enterprise, I feel ice and coal sort of enterprise, the place in the summertime, you ship ice, and within the winter, you ship gas oil in a sort of outdated truck. And he made a fairly good dwelling in comparison with lots of different individuals, as I say, very opinionated, robust Catholic, stern Catholic, did not need the boys, did not need his daughter to carry the boys there. However his spouse on the time, not Clarence’s mother’s mom or their pure – their organic grandmother, however that lady that was married to Clarence’s grandfather actually needed the children. And so they gave them one thing the children had by no means actually had – operating water. They might take a shower, they may use a rest room, and so they might go to public faculty within the neighborhood, so – needed to do lots of work for his grandfather, needed to toe the road, however on the identical time, had at the very least the fundamentals of what the remainder of us would acknowledge as a life and a life-style that concerned meals and sleep and shelter and – if not love.

DAVIES: So he finally ends up going to a highschool seminary the place he lived in a dormitory the place there have been solely two Black college students. The remainder of them had been white. He was – had ambitions to develop into a priest. Was that the plan?

KIRK: Effectively, the nuns had been those who thought they noticed that spark. One of many issues I realized from going to Catholic faculty and being from a Catholic household in a sort of rural space was each household was searching for a vocation of their household. And also you’d pray – in my household, we would pray after dinner for a vocation amongst my brothers and me. And in Clarence’s world, the nuns had been searching for the primary Black priest for Savannah, and Clarence obtained the seal of approval from Sister Mary Virgilius and others. This was going to be – and so they advised him this, and so they advised everyone this – this was going to be the primary Black priest, and his identify was going to be Clarence Thomas.

DAVIES: And so dwelling on this dormitory with a bunch of white boys, that is sort of an uncommon association for teenagers again within the ’50s. What was that have like for him?

KIRK: He had by no means actually been round white individuals on this manner, within the sense that you simply’re sleeping in a room with 20 others or 15 others or perhaps extra, consuming collectively, hanging round. Clarence did not precisely have a plethora of social abilities and was mocked and ridiculed. And all it’s important to do is look intently on the footage that we have discovered of him in courses and on the seminary and as a bit of little one, and he has this pained look. A few of it’s from that dialect accent he had, a few of it’s as a result of he is the one Black pupil there and that is the racist Deep South within the late Nineteen Fifties, early ’60s, all through that very – the rise of the Civil Rights Motion within the South. All of that’s taking place round him. And Clarence shouldn’t be smiling in nearly any of these footage.

And he’s the topic of derision and mocking and taunts at night time. Clarence, smile so we will see you. Actually did not shock me to listen to the darkest racial names you would think about known as out to him all night time lengthy to maintain him awake. After which there was one crucial second when Clarence knew, OK, I’ve obtained to get out of right here. And that was the assassination, the homicide of Martin Luther King, when he heard a white seminarian say King had not been murdered – had not died but. And the seminarian mentioned, I hope the SOB dies. And for Clarence – that was the highschool pupil Clarence – that was the ultimate straw.

DAVIES: So he left the seminary and went again to dwell together with his grandfather, who didn’t significantly welcome that call.

KIRK: He mainly advised him to return out the door. He was not welcome there. His emotions and his, I feel, in all probability – I hate to get in his grandfather’s head. However I – others discuss it in a manner that it was – that he was so proud that Clarence would possibly find yourself being the Black priest of Savannah. And when Clarence did not minimize it, nicely, that was towards the foundations so far as his grandfather was involved. You all the time minimize it when the going will get tough, the tough get going, or the robust will get going, or regardless of the saying is. That was definitely the best way he felt, and he felt that Clarence had betrayed him. And mainly, he mentioned to Clarence, you are going to find yourself identical to your no-good father. You are no good in school. You possibly can’t end something. Exit and really feel what it is wish to be out on this planet alone.

And so, you already know, in his teenagers, Clarence Thomas cannot dwell together with his mother and is out on his personal to search out methods to make a dwelling, to eat, to discover a meal, to discover a flush bathroom once more – all of the issues that Clarence Thomas had develop into sort of used to. He now needed to begin over. It was again at zero. And he was a teen. And his grandfather and he by no means actually mended that breach after that.

DAVIES: We have to take a break right here. Let me reintroduce you. We’re talking with Michael Kirk. He’s an award-winning filmmaker. His documentary, “Clarence And Ginni Thomas: Politics, Energy And The Supreme Court docket,” is on the market for streaming on YouTube, “Frontline’s” web site and within the PBS app. We’ll proceed our dialog in only a second. That is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: That is FRESH AIR. And we’re talking with filmmaker Michael Kirk. His new Frontline documentary, “Clarence And Ginni Thomas: Politics, Energy In The Supreme Court docket” is on the market for streaming on YouTube, “Frontline’s” web site and the PBS app. So Clarence Thomas ultimately will get a scholarship to Holy Cross Faculty in Massachusetts, and there he turns into a militant activist. I imply, he was very, very troubled by the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, which occurred a number of months after the assassination of Martin Luther King. How – what form did his activism take?

KIRK: So this is a man who by no means actually has frolicked with a bunch of like-minded, perhaps even open-minded, Black youngsters his age, and he goes off to Holy Cross. And there is 2,000 white youngsters, all Catholics, and 28 Black college students, the primary sort of actual class or among the many first courses of affirmative motion class at Holy Cross – that it was an concept type of sweeping the nation on the time. That is 1968, 1969. Clarence sees the explosion within the streets, the fights which might be taking place in regards to the conflict in Vietnam, the fights which might be taking place across the civil rights disaster, the murders of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. And he – there he’s dwelling with all these different offended and annoyed – self-described offended and annoyed – Black males, three or 4 of whom we have interviewed.

And in that course of, Clarence actually finds an identification, and the identification is the Black Panther motion. He adopts the clothes, the coiffure, the fight boots, the – you already know, the military-style uniform, wears a beret and finds an idol. And the idol seems to be Malcolm X. And it’s Malcolm’s speeches, Malcolm’s arguments for separatism, Malcolm’s stridence and power that Clarence is drawn to. He – the best way he tells the story, or the best way individuals who know him inform the story, is that Clarence decides to memorize lots of Malcolm’s speeches and is himself a type of self-styled campus radical, believing, I feel, that this was a method to repair the world, that he had – he would discover acceptance within the anti-war and pro-civil-rights actions.

DAVIES: In his junior 12 months at Holy Cross, Clarence Thomas went to a protest in Cambridge, Mass., the place Harvard college students had been protesting on the time. It obtained fairly vigorous. What occurred? And what was the impact?

KIRK: He and a few of his pals from their group at Holy Cross drove the 40 miles right down to Harvard Sq., had drank lots of beer, had joined a march. There’s 31 faculties and universities in Massachusetts, so there are lots of people on the streets that night time marching towards Harvard Sq. from Boston Widespread. And all of it obtained uncontrolled. It was glass broke, then arguments with the police, then tear fuel, then the same old melees, however a lot – on a a lot bigger scale than anyone anticipated that had occurred definitely beforehand. And whereas these sort of issues had been breaking out each night time, Clarence leaves Cambridge at 4 within the morning, will get again to campus and has a sort of epiphany the place he says to himself – at the very least in his e-book, that is what he experiences – he says to himself, why was I doing that? What was I doing? I got here so near being arrested – I feel 40 college students had been arrested – so near ruining my life, and for what?

So he has this type of disaster, and as an alternative of changing into extra radicalized, he decides to shed the Panther, the uniform, placed on a coat and tie at instances. You might discover Clarence within the library, not out on the streets or something like that. And he finishes faculty close to the highest of his class with a 3.75 grade level. He is clearly a super-bright man. He applies himself and does very, very nicely and manages to graduate from Holy Cross – the primary individual in his household to take action. And his grandfather, in fact, doesn’t come to the ceremony.

DAVIES: That is a fairly radical flip, to go from someone who’s carrying, you already know, fatigues and military books and has a poster of Malcolm X in his room to buckling down and being a extra typical pupil. Did you speak to of us or did you get insights from Thomas’ e-book about whether or not he modified his fascinated by the US and race relations and, you already know, the massive points that had radicalized him?

KIRK: The individuals we talked to, considered one of them, a buddy of Clarence Thomas, Glenn Loury, additionally a Black educational and a really well-known speaker and a conservative Black man, Glenn Loury – one of many issues that Glenn says is it’s totally arduous to repair an ideology to Clarence Thomas. And it was equally arduous then, or that is simply one other nice instance of it. It is nearly an ideology-free zone round him. You by no means – you return – in case you’re a filmmaker or a biographer or a buddy and also you return and have a look at Clarence Thomas’ issues he mentioned and issues that he acted on searching for a political – hints of a political ideology, and it is vitally, very, very sophisticated and never strongly articulated by Thomas when it comes to why does he transfer away from the concept of separatism and different stalwart phrases or long-standing phrases of lots of the Black radicals on the time.

He was there however probably not there, fascinated by it, defending it however probably not. However one factor was changing into apparent. He was not blissful in regards to the implications of affirmative motion, and it was among the many first instances that he would, in fact, all through his life be a recipient, a beneficiary of what turned often called affirmative motion. However, on the time, he – the primary robust emotions of do I belong right here? Why am I right here? Am I right here for advantage, or am I right here solely as a result of I am Black? And if that’s the case, will I spend the remainder of my life with an asterisk subsequent to my identify that claims early beneficiary of, you already know, affirmative motion?

DAVIES: So his objection to affirmative motion was that he was perceived as somebody who did not earn his manner – proper? – that he was getting preferential remedy?

KIRK: Though he demonstrated that he had earned his manner together with his grades and his arduous work. So you’ll be able to posit a principle that he decides, I will exit and contribute – after the so-called riot in Harvard Sq. – is it potential that he went again to high school and mentioned to himself, I – you already know, that was a no-win deal for me? I wish to make my identify. I wish to make a contribution. I wish to do one thing. And I wish to show that I belong on this world.

And I feel that may be a type of pressure of Clarence Thomas, which is an ambition that grows out of such a powerful need to search out acceptance and to, in a manner, dwell down the problem his grandfather gave him when he mentioned, you are identical to your no-good dad. You are by no means going to quantity to something. I feel if there was an ideology for Clarence Thomas round that point, it may not be political, but it surely definitely was a mix of ambition and revenge.

DAVIES: We have to take one other break right here. Let me reintroduce you. We’re talking with Michael Kirk. He is an award-winning filmmaker. His documentary, “Clarence And Ginni Thomas: Politics, Energy And The Supreme Court docket” is on the market to stream at no cost on YouTube, “Frontline’s” web site and the PBS app. He’ll be again to speak extra after this brief break. I am Dave Davies, and that is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: That is FRESH AIR. I am Dave Davies. Our visitor is veteran filmmaker Michael Kirk, whose newest work is a PBS Frontline documentary in regards to the lives and influences on U.S. Supreme Court docket Justice Clarence Thomas and his spouse Ginni, a conservative political activist. The investigative information web site ProPublica has printed tales lately about luxurious holidays and different monetary advantages the couple acquired from a rich Texas businessman, advantages that weren’t reported on Thomas’s monetary disclosure varieties. Kirk’s documentary, “Clarence and Ginni Thomas: Politics, Energy And The Supreme Court docket,” is on the market to stream at no cost on YouTube, Frontline’s web site and the PBS app.

So Clarence Thomas will get a scholarship to Yale Legislation College, an elite establishment with lots of very robust traditions, considered one of very – you already know, a smattering of Black college students there. How does he slot in? What’s life like for him?

KIRK: I feel he actually is stunned at – I imply, he thinks what he is getting is a ticket to journey. You get a regulation diploma from Yale, you are going to develop into a big-time lawyer in New York Metropolis, on Wall Avenue and make some huge cash. That was his ambition. That was his purpose for doing it. And that was his expectation.

He was stunned by what it was wish to be there. You are surrounded by – I imply, considered one of his – his married pupil housing roommate was John Bolton. Invoice and Hillary Clinton had been one class forward of him however in lots of his courses. As Bolton tells us, it was a spot the place individuals anticipated to run the world sometime, and so they had been simply there gathering no matter they wanted to do this. Effectively, that was definitely not the case for Clarence Thomas.

And he was heartbroken when he found as soon as once more, so clearly to him, that the scholars didn’t imagine that he belonged there due to affirmative motion. And in some instances, even the professors thought he was getting a free go. He mainly by no means talked in courses or something like that. He was in some type of shell shock throughout his years at Yale Legislation College.

DAVIES: And on the finish, when of us had been getting, you already know, invites to hitch, you already know, as associates in large regulation corporations, he did not get affords. And also you report that he saved these rejection letters – what? – as sort of a motivation.

KIRK: Precisely. I imply, even at present, this can be a man who – for whom revenge is one response to the shortage of acceptance of him and his efforts. So, sure, when he would not – he arrives at what he thinks of as the head, he graduates from Yale Legislation College and he realizes it isn’t going to yield any sort of a job that he had aspirations for. He says he has the diploma, the Yale Legislation College diploma, framed with a 10-cent worth – a kind of stickers that claims 10 cents – and he caught it on the diploma body and mentioned, that is mainly what that Yale Legislation College diploma was value to me.

DAVIES: So he finally ends up taking a special highway. Somewhat than company regulation, authorities service is an avenue that he can advance in, because it seems. He turns into a workers lawyer for the legal professional common of Missouri, John Danforth, who then goes to the US Senate, and that takes Clarence Thomas to Washington. After which, in fact, in 1980, Ronald Reagan is elected president, bringing in a conservative wave to Washington. Does Clarence Thomas type of try to journey that wave? Does he domesticate pals amongst conservatives?

KIRK: Sure, it is – you are in authorities. You’re employed for Danforth, who’s a conservative. You have began to develop into fascinated by conservative politics. You have reached out to your former housemate, John Bolton, and he asks Bolton for some conservative texts he can learn. He is clearly eyeing a place getting some sort of a high-visibility job contained in the Reagan administration.

He is in his early 30s now. And one individual tells us that he tries to hitch the conservative Reagan revolution as a result of the road is shorter for Black individuals on that facet, on the Republican facet. Over on the Democratic facet, plenty of Black individuals in line to get good jobs, however within the conservative Republican world, Clarence Thomas – if he joins that line, it is a very brief line. And he does do this. And he’s rewarded by the Reagan administration for his willingness to step up and defend Reagan. Each time Reagan could be known as racist or each time a coverage may be known as racist, it’s Clarence Thomas who they put ahead performing the duty of defender of Reagan’s racial equality instincts.

DAVIES: He will get a job within the Schooling Division after which ultimately is appointed by Reagan head of the Equal Employment Alternative Fee – the place he would meet Anita Hill, who would determine prominently in his life later – held that publish for eight years. You spoke with a girl that he had dated and another of us there. What image did you get of Clarence Thomas as head of the EEOC?

KIRK: The best way they inform the story – these are Black ladies. The best way they inform the story is Clarence was sort of unleashed. Now he is – for the primary time, he is in energy. Now for the primary time he can – and sarcastically, he runs the Equal Alternative Fee – he seems to be very sort of abusive to primarily Black individuals, but additionally there’s lots of ageism concerned in a few of his feedback.

The best way they inform the story, he is attempting to attraction to the white Reagan staffers and conservatives by being the Black man who’s the primary to inform a sort of racially tinted joke or use an unkind phrase, proving to them that he could be trusted. He is not considered one of these strident Black males, offended, strident Black males or no matter they used to name individuals who would step up and shake their fist on the Reagan administration. And that was – Clarence was fairly the alternative. That is the best way they inform the story. He is very sexist. He asks the ladies, the best way they inform it, you already know, what was your bra measurement? And simply on and on and on like that – unseemly makes use of of his authority.

DAVIES: Yeah. You realize, it is a image of a bully in a manner. And, you already know, I’ve to say, anyone who runs a giant group, we’ll discover some individuals that do not like him. You realize, you make choices. Did anyone have something good to say about him on the EEOC?

KIRK: I feel there have been some issues that he – I imply, he was the one that attacked and tried to handle, maneuver, sandpaper, take off the tough edges, no matter you need, or the highly effective components of affirmative motion. And that was considered one of his major objectives. And he was fairly good at it. And his ideology, his conservative ideology was forming up round this time. And different conservatives mentioned he was with the president. There is a scene within the movie the place Ronald Reagan provides him a jar of jelly beans for his birthday within the Oval Workplace. And you’ll see Clarence simply – it was as if he was with a rock star or someone he’d idolized eternally. He is – you’ll be able to see who Clarence is and the way he is approaching who he desires to be in that world, and he does it fairly efficiently.

DAVIES: You mentioned he was taking the tough edges off of affirmative motion – which means what?

KIRK: He was attempting to make it extra palatable and have sort of much less enamel. And he would defend efforts to problem it. He would – he hated the concept that – and tried every thing he might do to not implement – the concept of quotas, a phrase that he found was – may very well be fairly efficiently used. We do not need quotas. We’re not up about – this isn’t about quotas. And that is, in fact, the clarion cry for lots of white individuals who did not like affirmative motion both, and massive companies and others.

So Clarence Thomas on the time was a spokesman tasked with occurring C-Span and different venues, assembly with evangelicals, plenty of different issues to make who he was and what his opinions had been about this and subsequently what Ronald Reagan’s opinions had been about one thing like affirmative motion, make it extra believable and simpler to just accept for individuals by taking the enamel proper out of it.

DAVIES: We’ll take one other break right here. Let me reintroduce you. We’re talking with Michael Kirk. He is an award-winning filmmaker. His documentary, “Clarence And Ginni Thomas: Politics, Energy And The Supreme Court docket,” is on the market to stream on YouTube, Frontline’s web site and the PBS app. We’ll proceed our dialog in only a second. That is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: That is FRESH AIR, and we’re talking with veteran filmmaker Michael Kirk. His newest work is a PBS Frontline documentary in regards to the lives and influences on U.S. Supreme Court docket Justice Clarence Thomas and his spouse Ginni, a conservative political activist. It is known as “Clarence and Ginni Thomas: Politics, Energy And The Supreme Court docket,” and it is out there to stream at no cost on YouTube, Frontline’s web site and the PBS app.

So in 1991, Thurgood Marshall, the one Black member of the Supreme Court docket, retires and George Herbert Walker Bush picks Clarence Thomas to take his place as an affiliate justice. The affirmation hearings and the accusation by regulation professor Anita Hill of sexual harassment when she had labored for Thomas are among the many best-known testimony ever given at a affirmation listening to for a justice. It was extremely gripping, as was Clarence Thomas’ offended response, denying every thing. With out going by means of all of it once more – individuals will bear in mind it – what do you suppose individuals ought to learn about this episode that’s perhaps not so well-known or could not have gotten the eye it deserved?

KIRK: I feel the extent to which he actually obtained slammed and stunned by Anita Hill’s allegations, particularly initially after they hit the information however earlier than the hearings. Clarence mainly collapsed. We now have visibility into what occurred with him, the deep collapse. We now have visibility by means of Senator Jack Danforth, who talked to us for a very long time about his relationship with Clarence. And Danforth goes out to Thomas’ home because the information is breaking, and Thomas is simply ruined.

It is like – think about you have created this type of edifice-like life, attempting to observe all these guidelines that you simply did not know existed, and now you have succeeded. You are feeling you have actually succeeded. After which this – out of the blue, this second occurs, and also you’re – every thing is blowing up in your face. To…

DAVIES: And only for listeners right here, that is – the primary a part of the listening to went easily sufficient. He was crusing to affirmation. After which phrase of Anita Hill’s allegations come to mild. That is earlier than the precise testimony and hearings. And Danforth goes to go to Clarence Thomas, proper? And…

KIRK: Sure.

DAVIES: …That is like nothing he’d ever seen.

KIRK: It is very attention-grabbing. And due to that entry with Danforth and an interview with Alan Simpson, a Wyoming senator, one other conservative Republican, we will observe what occurred with Thomas in that interval of the testimony of Anita Hill, what she alleged, Thomas’ response, the non-public assembly inside Danforth’s workplace earlier than Thomas comes again to reply the costs within the listening to room the place his anger is fed, he is searching for a method to reply, and you’re there whenever you watch the concept of what he would ultimately name one of the vital well-known phrases ever from congressional testimony, a high-tech lynching of an uppity Black individual. It is the method between Ginni and Clarence at that second as he decides to not fold, however to return again combating. For me, understanding what was occurring behind the scenes with this character we adopted all the best way from Pin Level as a bit of boy was actually exceptional.

DAVIES: Did not Danforth say when he went to his home he discovered Clarence – was it in a fetal place, wasn’t consuming, simply sort of non-functional?

KIRK: Sure, laying on the mattress, sobbing, believing his life was over.

DAVIES: Wow. We should always simply observe that, you already know, Thomas defiantly denied the costs. He was confirmed. However there have been different ladies who would have – might have provided corroborating proof that had been by no means known as. We realized within the documentary that this affected him deeply – Clarence Thomas – when it comes to his media consumption habits. This was sort of arduous to imagine. Describe this.

KIRK: After he will get confirmed 52 to 48 and turns into a Supreme Court docket justice – however there are lots of aftershocks that happen. Some of the attention-grabbing to me was that he canceled his subscription to The Washington Put up. He did not learn The New York Occasions. He mentioned out loud that he was now going to cease consuming any nationwide media in any respect. So if that is true, how does he get data? And other people we talked to mentioned he depends totally on two sources. One was Ginni, his greatest buddy, his spouse, who herself is into conspiracy theories and many different issues. She was his major useful resource of what was occurring within the nation. It is a Supreme Court docket justice whose major reference level for cultural occasions and political occasions within the nation was his spouse, Ginni, and a person who would develop into his nice greatest buddy, a rich, wealthy white man named Rush Limbaugh. And he and Limbaugh turned inseparable, sort of actually, actually shut pals throughout that point. So I suppose you would assert a lot of the data that Clarence Thomas was receiving about what was occurring within the nation was coming from Rush Limbaugh and Ginni Thomas, his spouse.

DAVIES: Yeah, he would have workers tape the Rush Limbaugh broadcasts that he missed so he might hearken to them later at a time when the know-how wasn’t like it’s at present. He additionally enters an entire new set of associations, significantly with rich white conservatives. And, I feel, this is the place the current reporting by ProPublica about his relationship with Harlan Crow, the Texas billionaire, comes into focus.

I imply, it was reported, you already know, by the Occasions and others considerably earlier. However what’s attention-grabbing in regards to the new reporting is that this relationship of normal luxurious trip and journeys goes again a protracted, very long time. That is an affiliation that basically lasted a very long time. Simply give us a way of what that relationship was like and what the advantages had been to Clarence Thomas.

KIRK: So for a few a long time, a justice of the US Supreme Court docket and his spouse had been handled to a whole lot and a whole lot of 1000’s of {dollars} of lavish holidays, items – in a single case, $500,000 given to a PAC or a bunch that Ginni was concerned with, a sort of outgrowth of the Tea Celebration, the place Ginni was additionally given a wage of $120,000, as ProPublica reported. They traveled the world within the jet. They had been – he was typically alone with Harlan Crow. You realize, they went to Indonesia. They might – he had a – Crow has an enormous yacht. They noticed the world. He lived – Supreme Court docket justices do not make that a lot cash by comparability to different very profitable attorneys. However he definitely traveled and skilled holidays and the luxuries of a really rich individual because of his benefactor, Harlan Crow. And he by no means reported any of it.

DAVIES: After all, it is unseemly to be accepting all that free stuff. I suppose there’s additionally the query of whether or not this contact with Harlan Crow represented a battle of curiosity or an look of battle for a justice who has to, you already know, weigh all these consequential instances. What does the report present about this?

KIRK: Effectively, it is, you already know – you already know, Dave, from all of your reporting for all these years, discovering a quid professional quo in a second like this, in a problem like this, very, very arduous to nail down, nicely, it was this piece of laws. It was this – no matter. It is totally different than that, I feel. It is – you are within the dialog with a justice of the Supreme Court docket. And also you’re alone. And also you’re speaking in regards to the problems with the day and perhaps the issues that have an effect on your enterprise.

I – after I interviewed the ProPublica reporters, I mentioned, what occurs when someone’s alone with a Supreme Court docket justice on a protracted flight to Indonesia or up at a fishing lodge and also you’re the pinnacle of the Federalist Society, like Leonard Leo or someone? What are you speaking to Clarence Thomas about? Why have him within the group? And so they mentioned that is precisely the issue. The issue shouldn’t be some particular piece of laws or a case. Though, that will exist and should come ahead at some second. However it’s the surroundings and the notion of a battle of curiosity that’s actually the one forex the justices even have as being, you already know, impartial of the pressures of politics.

We wish to imagine they’re leaders who’re unsullied by the ugly debates which might be on tv and within the newspapers, and taking place on the ground of the Home and the Senate and run over by the White Home. The presumption is that they’re totally different than that. And when one thing like this involves mild, it isn’t a lot what was the particular piece of laws or the case that he went the opposite manner on. It is the notion that’s most in play there and essentially the most harmful consequence of individuals discovering simply how grand his relationship in monetary and different phrases was with Harlan Crow.

DAVIES: We’re talking with filmmaker Michael Kirk. His new documentary, “Clarence And Ginni Thomas: Politics, Energy And The Supreme Court docket,” could be seen on YouTube, on “Frontline’s” web site and the PBS app. We’ll speak extra in only a second. That is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: That is FRESH AIR. And we’re talking with filmmaker Michael Kirk. His newest work is a PBS “Frontline” documentary in regards to the lives and influences on U.S. Supreme Court docket Justice Clarence Thomas and his spouse Ginni. It is known as “Clarence And Ginni Thomas: Politics, Energy And The Supreme Court docket.”

Clarence Thomas’ place on the court docket now’s totally different now that, you already know, Donald Trump has appointed three conservative justices, who’ve a supermajority. And, you already know, Clarence Thomas’ report consists of, you already know, votes to weaken the Voting Rights Act. He is spoken out towards affirmative motion. And, you already know, one of many issues that you simply handle within the documentary is how different African People view him. And also you – one of many individuals that you simply spoke to, Randall Kennedy, a Harvard regulation professor, mentioned that he’s derided within the Black group. And he says that there is an expression for doing a Clarence Thomas, which means that that is when somebody makes use of their Blackness to realize a spot of energy after which turns their again on the Black group. And then you definitely play a clip from an outdated buddy of Clarence Thomas, Glenn Loury, who’s a revered professor of economics at Brown, who had his personal historical past with lots of these points. He was – has been conservative in a lot of his profession. This is what he says about that concept that Thomas is considered, you already know, a traitor.


GLENN LOURY: You wish to be considered Black man or lady, not as a traitor or a turncoat, a sellout. However, the concept that I’d suppose for myself and I will not be advised what to suppose simply due to the colour of my pores and skin is one which very powerfully animated Clarence Thomas. If someone goes to inform me I am not Black as a result of, considering for myself, I arrived at sure conclusions that they did not like – you query my authenticity? You query my legitimacy? I take umbrage at that. I do not respect that.

DAVIES: That is Glenn Loury from the documentary “Clarence And Ginni Thomas: Politics, Energy And The Supreme Court docket,” which is directed by our visitor, Michael Kirk.

You realize, what I suppose I am getting at with these components of the documentary is, what actually motivates Clarence Thomas? And also you talked to so many individuals. I imply, is it ambition? Is it anger? Is it honest perception in his conservative ideas? Do you are feeling such as you actually obtained to the underside of it or whether or not there was a consensus amongst all of those pals and associates of his about that?

KIRK: I feel if there’s a consensus – and as I’ve mentioned a number of instances on this dialog, it’s totally sophisticated. Clarence Thomas’ life is wealthy and lengthy and stuffed with inconsistencies. And definitely, the previous few years after he got here out of the shadow of Justice Antonin Scalia, the true mental chief of the suitable on the court docket – as soon as Scalia handed away, it then fell to Thomas to hold on the custom and produce his personal perspective to it in full flower. And that’s, I feel, what everybody who has identified him all of their lives see. We had nice hopes that when push got here to shove on a problem like affirmative motion, Clarence would nonetheless be that Black younger man from Pin Level.

It is – the Roe v. Wade arguments and the Dobbs resolution are a traditional instance of a willingness by Justice Thomas to return at the entire instances that he was not within the majority on, and to maneuver the court docket rather more in that different, rather more conservative route, extra conservative than perhaps it is ever been. And he is doing that with a type of combination of I am so blissful I lastly discovered a spot the place I can thrive, I am so blissful I can now get even with the forces within the society which have made me really feel dangerous all of my life, and particularly the indignities that grew out of the Anita Hill testimony and my affirmation hearings. That is Clarence Thomas’ second. Folks discuss it as being Clarence Thomas’ court docket. And who he’s and who the person is who’s now doing that, I feel, turns into a lot clearer now as the choices that signify the issues which have occurred to him in his life join up.

DAVIES: Effectively, Michael Kirk, thanks a lot for talking with us.

KIRK: My pleasure, Dave. Thanks.

DAVIES: Michael Kirk is an award-winning filmmaker. His documentary “Clarence And Ginni Thomas: Politics, Energy And The Supreme Court docket” is on the market to stream at no cost on YouTube, “Frontline’s” web site and within the PBS app. On tomorrow’s present, we’ll speak with Kwame Alexander about his new memoir, “Why Fathers Cry At Night time.” It is about his life as a father and because the son of a Baptist preacher of Black liberation theology. It is also about falling in love and divorce. That is Alexander’s first e-book for adults. He gained the Caldecott Medal for his e-book “The Undefeated.” I hope you’ll be able to be part of us.

FRESH AIR’s govt producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer at present is Sam Briger. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with further engineering help from Julian Herzfeld. Our interviews and evaluations are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the present. For Terry Gross and Tonya Mosley, I am Dave Davies.


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NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This textual content will not be in its closing type and could also be up to date or revised sooner or later. Accuracy and availability could fluctuate. The authoritative report of NPR’s programming is the audio report.


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