Although coauthored, Capitol Games is narrated from the point of view of Timothy Phelps, who, as a reporter for Newsday, first made public Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Supplementing this vantage point with additional research, the authors explore the path by which Thomas came to be President George Bush’s choice for the slot on the court vacated by Thurgood Marshall. They also explore the behind-the-scenes machinations of the confirmation process and the reasons for to Thomas’ confirmation by a narrow margin. Along the way, evaluations of participants in the process, including President Bush, various prominent senators, and members of the mass media, are offered.
Phelps and Winternitz also reassess the performance of the principals themselves; neither Thomas nor Hill, however, cooperated directly in the writing of this book. Instead, the observations of relatives, friends, and acquaintances are used to reconstruct the course of events.
Thomas’ path to the Supreme Court was an extraordinary one even before the controversy with Hill. Born in Pin Point, Georgia in 1948, Thomas lived in relative poverty with his mother until the age of six. His father had deserted the family to escape a paternity suit. When he was six, Thomas went to live with Myers Anderson, his maternal grandfather. A relative stranger to the boy, Anderson was a somewhat distant but powerfully positive role model for Thomas. Anderson was a strict task- master who inculcated in Thomas both a powerful work ethic and a firm commitment to civil rights. Thomas was a hard-working, talented student, ultimately earning a law degree from Yale University. Upon graduation from law school, Thomas had trouble finding the type of employment he wanted, in a field other than civil rights, until he went to work for John Danforth, the attorney general of Missouri and a Republican. Danforth, a fellow Yale graduate, allowed Thomas to specialize in tax work. It was his connection with Danforth that led Thomas to Washington, first as a legislative aide when Danforth was elected to Congress, then as a political appointee in the Ronald Reagan Administration.
Thomas’ political views had changed quite drastically over the years. They had become more militant during his college years, when Malcolm X supplanted Martin Luther King, Jr., as a personal hero. After college, however, Thomas gradually became more conservative, tying his destiny first to Danforth, a moderate Republican, and later to more conservative elements in the Republican party. Although Thomas’ motives may have been partly opportunistic, he seems also to have found the ideas of Thomas Sowell and other black conservatives highly compelling.
After going to work for Reagan, first in the Department of Education and then at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Thomas became even more rightist, fostering close connections with extremist groups rigidly opposed to sanctions on the apartheid government of South Africa, abortion, and affirmative action, among other things. Thomas’ religious affiliation also changed during this time, from Catholic to a highly politicized antiabortion Baptist denomination.
In the eyes of Washington right-wingers, Thomas’ ideological and racial credentials made him a supremely qualified nominee to replace Thurgood Marshall. Marshall, a legendary civil rights pioneer and all-around liberal, had been named to the Court by Lyndon Johnson in 1967, becoming the Supreme Court’s first African American justice. Thomas could fill what was seen as the African American place on the court but promote conservative rather than liberal ideas.
In 1989, in preparation for his possible role as Marshall’s successor, Thomas was nominated and confirmed as a federal appellate court justice. When Marshall retired two years later, Thomas was the consensus choice of right-wingers to replace him. Thomas’ combination of African American status and avid right-wing credentials would, it was hoped, confound liberals and mainstream civil rights organizations. Such groups, smarting because of the rightward direction the Court was taking under President Reagan, had managed to block the confirmation of Robert Bork in 1987. The strategy of Thomas’ supporters was to split the African American community so that liberal and Southern Democrats would hesitate to oppose Thomas, despite considerable pressure to do so....