Twenty Years of Clarence Thomas

July 11, 2011  |  

(Salon) — Most Americans had never heard of Clarence Thomas when President George H.W. Bush nominated him for the Supreme Court 20 years ago this month. Bush, who announced his pick in Kennebunkport, Maine on July 1, 1991, called the thinly credentialed Thomas the “best qualified” person for the seat vacated by retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall, a giant of the law who had argued the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case and was the Court’s first African-American justice.  Thomas had only been a federal judge for a year when Bush tapped him for the Supreme Court, and the gap in stature compared to Marshall, the man he would replace, set the terms for the rancorous fight that followed. Democrats charged the White House with playing racial politics with an unqualified candidate on the assumption that they wouldn’t dare oppose an African-American.

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