Global Courant 2023-05-19 03:38:45
Clarence Thomas in 1992.Larry Downing/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images
In 1980, 32-year-old Clarence Thomas was an unnamed aide to a Republican senator.
At a conference for black conservatives, he complained to a journalist that his sister was on welfare.
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The journalist, Juan Williams, wrote a column about it that caught the attention of Reagan’s team.
Long ago Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made headlines for his financial dealings, he made the news for a completely different reason: he complained to a journalist that his sister was on welfare.
The story will be told in a new episode of the WNYC Podcast “More Perfect,” which focuses on the Supreme Court and its influential rulings. The latest episode, released Thursday, is all about Thomas, telling the story of how he went from a Malcolm X admiring revolutionary to perhaps the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court.
In December of that year, about a month before Ronald Reagan was due to be sworn in as president, Thomas paid his own money to attend a conference of black conservatives in San Francisco. After Reagan sailed to victory with little support from black voters, black conservatives were increasingly discussed in the media, Williams wrote in The Atlantic.
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Thomas, a Reagan supporter, was not well known. But at the conference, he caught the eye of Williams, who at the time was an editorial writer for The Washington Post.
“Thomas was the most interesting of a very self-righteous crowd because he was so brutally outspoken,” Williams wrote in The Atlantic, adding that Thomas explained that his stance on welfare – and his opposition to public aid – was in part due to his sister . in Georgia.
“She gets mad when the mailman is late with her benefits,” Thomas said, according to Williams. “That’s how dependent she is. What’s worse is that her kids now feel entitled to the check too. They have no motivation to do better or get out of that situation.”
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Such feelings are not uncommon in discussions about welfare programs, but Thomas’s comments and his sister’s mention caused quite a stir, Williams told the “More Perfect” podcast. His remarks were also consistent with Reagan’s own campaign diatribes against the Social Security system and “welfare queens” — in which he used individual examples of welfare fraud to portray it as a rampant problem. In reality there is little evidence of widespread fraud in law programs.
Williams eventually wrote a column about the conference that focused largely on Thomas and his comments.
“He had never been in the media like that before,” Williams said of Thomas. “The response from most Washington Post readers was, ‘Wow, this guy is crazy. Why is he bringing up his sister? Why is he putting her in that ugly public position?'”
While Thomas’s comments outraged liberals, they also caught the attention of President-elect Reagan’s team. In May 1981, Thomas joined the Reagan White House as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Department of Education. He then served as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1982 to 1990. And in 1991, President George HW Bush appointed him to the lifetime position of Judge of the Supreme Court.
Eventually, Reagan cut welfare programs en masse and allowed states to enact work requirements for welfare recipients.
Despite the chain of events that followed, Thomas was unhappy with the column, and especially with the public reaction, Williams said, adding that it was six months before Thomas would talk to him again. When the pair finally met for lunch, Thomas pretended that Williams had hurt him.
“I’m like, ‘But I just quoted you. Dude, this is what you told me.’ And he keeps repeating the same things anyway,” Williams said, adding that their relationship got back on track after that.
Williams, who has said he considers Thomas a friend, recently called for a investigation into the financial transactions of the judiciary following numerous media reports.
ProPublic first reported that Thomas had been taking secret, lavish vacations for years at the expense of GOP mega-donor Harlan Crow. Subsequent reports revealed that Thomas failed to disclose the sale of his family home to Crow, and that Crow paid for it Thomas’ second cousin to attend a residential program for teens that costs $6,000 a month.
Thomas has denied any wrongdoing and said he believed the gifts fell under a “personal hospitality” exemption.
Read the original article Business Insider