Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, investigative reporters at The Wall Street Journal, build a powerful case for the conclusion that during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Clarence Thomas may have lied under oath about his behavior toward Anita Hill when she worked with him at the Department of Education and later at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But that, in its own shocking way, is the least of the dismaying news in Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas.
More disturbing and infuriating by far is the calculated political process the reporters document, whereby a black jurist of relatively little experience or outstanding qualification, psychologically conflicted in his own skin but coolly ambitious, is chosen to satisfy a conservative agenda. (Although Thomas claims to oppose the use of racial quotas, the authors show him as having planned and lobbied hard to succeed Thurgood Marshall, the Court’s only black Justice.) Thomas is shepherded through the confirmation process by politicians and their attendant backers willing to do anything to get their guy in. And he is confirmed, in no small part, by opposing politicians too concerned about their own damn images and too fearful of charges of racism to pursue information that may lead to reelection-threatening unpleasantness. Mayer and Abramson show that the elevation to the Supreme Court of Clarence Thomas — a man against whom other women employees were willing to testify but were not called by a Senate confirmation committee desperate to get the hell away from the television cameras — is a scene in a bigger, more desolate political drama than any one line of dialogue about Coke cans and pubic hairs can possibly convey. That polls taken after the hearings showed that the majority of the public preferred to believe Thomas’ version of ”the truth” rather than Hill’s only underscores the slipperiness of what truth is and how a private citizen can know it when she or he hears it.
You cannot read Strange Justice unmoved. You may dismiss the reporting as biased or cite it to fan the curlicues of outrage that still rise like smoke in workplaces throughout the country, three years after these events took place, as men and women continue to react with heated emotions to the very mention of the names Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. Either way, you have been warned: The truth is out there, and it’s stranger than you thought. A-