Cable Exclusive: Justice Clarence Thomas Sits Down with Sean Hannity

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," October 2, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: He is perhaps the most famous person in our nation's capital who does not run towards the television cameras. For 16 years, Clarence Thomas has been an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court. And until this week, he had never done a television interview.

Now he has written a book called "My Grandfather's Son" in which he is incredibly frank about his own background and the events that brought him to the bench. I spoke with him at length yesterday at the Supreme Court in Washington in a "Hannity & Colmes" cable exclusive interview.


HANNITY: Mr. Justice, thank you for doing this. Good to see you.

CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: Thank you. Good seeing you, Sean.

HANNITY: "My Grandfather's Son," an ordinary man to whom extraordinary things happened. That's how you describe your life.

THOMAS: Yes. Well, I mean, that's what it is. I don't think I described it that way necessarily. I just simply stated what I thought it was. I've never seen myself as anything more than an ordinary person.

HANNITY: Well, you know, you said you wanted to write this book. You said you wanted to put down an accurate record of your own life and not leave it to those, you know, that had malicious hearts and that, you know, didn't want to — that didn't tell the story accurately. You felt that this was important for you to get this down.

THOMAS: Well, you know, again, I quote William F. Buckley there, that "only the person who takes the voyage can really talk about it". And I didn't want to leave the telling to others.

I've watched over the years. I've been here for over a quarter of a century now, and I have watched people who think — who live by this creed that perception is more important than reality. And they go about creating a reality that's not true.

And I'm not in the P.R. business. I write — I decide cases and write opinions, and we're pretty cloistered here. And there are a number of things that occurred, like the death of my brother, that suggested to me that I had to, I had an obligation to record how we really lived and more about my life.

HANNITY: You were very accurate about it. This is an extraordinarily honest book, a very revealing book. You talk at length about your entire upbringing. I want to get into some detail here because I think this is a part of your story that most people don't know.

For example, your biological father, you called him "C." You first met him when you were only 9 years old. Tell us about those circumstances and when you first met him.

THOMAS: Well, I mean, he was — I'm sure he was around when I was a toddler. But what do you remember when you are 15 months old or a year old? Not a whole lot. And, of course, he and my mother divorced shortly after my brother was born. And my brother was just slightly more than a year younger than me.

So I don't have any recollection — any early childhood recollections of him. By the time I saw him again, I was living with my grandparents, and I was already in Catholic schools, and I got a call from my mother, who lived in one of the housing projects in Savannah. And we went over and we met him.

And, you know, I didn't have any sort of animus toward him. My brother was very upset. And so one thing that you will find throughout the book, things like anger or negativity or cynicism, those things sort of bleed away the positive energy that you need to live your life. And I really didn't — I was living at the margins. It is like low batteries. So it's like leaving the lights on in your car or something, that drains your battery when you have nothing to charge it, so...

HANNITY: Yes. You actually have said it — in the preface you said that you didn't have a habit of looking back because you needed all the strength to live in the moment.

THOMAS: That's right.

HANNITY: And it's a very challenging life. But your father had promised you then when you were 9 that he would give both you and your brother watches. And what you said is, "My father had broken the only promise that he ever made to us." Did that impact you?

THOMAS: Oh, yeah. I would never have promised my son or anyone else something I couldn't deliver on. And if you noticed in the book what torments me and will probably torment me to the grave is simply I broke my word twice.

HANNITY: Well, I want to — I'm going to get back to that in a second here. And you were very honest in revealing a lot of things about yourself — about yourself. Your brother said your grandfather was "the only father we ever had." You quote it twice in the book. You quote it early. And then when he told you that your father — your grandfather had passed away, you said, "Was it C? Was it my biological father?" And then he answered with that line.

THOMAS: That was — my brother was very clear about that. You know, we both had difficulty adjusting to living with my grandfather and his — his quite difficult rules. But once we did, he was the only father I had had or we had.

And it was my brother actually, his words to me over the years, and my mother's, that suggested the title, because they always said, you're just like your grandfather. We called him "Daddy." And the — when I thought about it after I had written much of the book, I said, "Well, I am my grandfather's son, because that's always been the glue," and then shortened it to "My Grandfather's Son."

HANNITY: You know, but you grew up in the early years of your life in a shanty, no bathroom, no electricity. You had to carry water to your house. You had barrels to catch the rainwater as it would fall off the roof. And you called your mom "Pigeon."

THOMAS: That was her name — that was her nickname. We call her — I call her Leola now, and that's her name. It is so interesting. She was so young. Everyone else called her by her first name or by a nickname. So you just sort of begin to parrot what others say. And that's why I called my grandfather "Daddy," because she called him "Daddy." But with respect to the house, let me just correct one thing. There was one light bulb.

HANNITY: One light bulb, OK.

THOMAS: So I don't want to say that there was no electricity.

HANNITY: Well, I stand corrected on the one light bulb. Then, in "Pin Point", as it was called, you talked about a pretty happy childhood at one point, although it was real poverty what you're describing, that you had, as you described, only two store-bought toys. And one was a fire truck and one was a wagon, an old wagon. That's hardly luxury.

THOMAS: Well, but I don't think you need luxury to be happy. I think there are lots of people who have all the luxuries and are very unhappy. And Pin Point was happy. I mean, what else do you need? I mean — when I look back, even now, it's still idyllic. If you go there, to me it's still idyllic. We were carefree. We were happy. My family was there. There was always enough to eat. And I didn't know what to contrast that with. There was no comparative. So there — it wasn't as though I had had it all at one point and lost it. This was the only life I knew.


ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: And we continue now with Sean's interview with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.


HANNITY: Anita Hill, you had worked with...

THOMAS: Too much is made of that because I go back to what I said before, that this is just a weapon of choice. There were other weapons that were chosen during the confirmation where they were trying to knock me off. And this is just yet one more weapon. And it isn't so much about the — that. I mean, the reason I cover it is because it happened. And there would be more made of it, if I didn't cover it.

HANNITY: I think if there was one paragraph that hit me hard...


HANNITY: ... besides the story about your father, which is — which was so compelling, "The more I reflected on what was happening, the more it astonished me. As a child in the Deep South, I grew up hearing the lynch mobs of the Ku Klux Klan. As an adult, I was starting to wonder if I had been afraid of the wrong people all along. My worst fears had come to pass not in Georgia, but in Washington."

That paragraph jumped off the page and hit me hard.

THOMAS: I was — well, I mean, you think about it. Think about if you had said to your parents 30 years ago that you would become a member of the court, the Supreme Court, what would they have said?

HANNITY: It would be one of pride, happiness.

THOMAS: OK, it was a happy moment. It's sort of the American dream. It was like, when we were told when we were kids in segregation, we could be president of the United States, we didn't believe it. But there was way out there some place. So it happens one day. You become a nominee to the Supreme Court.

But then to have people, just over these issues, besmirch everything, destroy every moment, and you can't find in a single point, from Kennebunkport on, one moment of joy, one moment of glee, one moment of saying, "This is really fun."

HANNITY: But go through this again, "I grew up fearing" — and when you were in Savannah, 1960, I think was the year, you had the Ku Klux Klan marching through town.

THOMAS: Yes. But they would — you didn't — they were downtown.


THOMAS: And they were not in my neighborhood...

HANNITY: Pretty close...

THOMAS: They were not — weren't chasing me down the street.

HANNITY: Pretty close...

THOMAS: But they weren't beating me.

HANNITY: When your father threw you out of the house, the first place you went to work, they had Ku Klux Klan written on the bathroom stalls.

THOMAS: But those people — but remember what I also said, they sat along the edges and never said a word.

HANNITY: But to say — but to have that background and to live through that experience, and then say, "I grew up fearing the lynch mobs of the Klan as an adult, I was starting to wonder if I'd been afraid the wrong people all along," in describing those that systematically went about destroying you. And you listed one — Confederate flag issues, financial issues, they were looking to take you down.

THOMAS: To destroy. But see...

HANNITY: To destroy you.

THOMAS: ... what you contrast that with, the people that we would all sneer at who sat along the edges of the bathroom at the Union camp who did nothing, never said a word.


THOMAS: Never tried to harm me or any — I'm not saying they — I'm not defending them. But I'm just simply saying that they were the people that we would all just simply say, "These are racists." But what of the people who were trying to destroy me?


THOMAS: That's the point that I was trying to make with that paragraph, what are they?

HANNITY: They're racist.

THOMAS: Well, I mean, that — so if you say, for example, that people shouldn't say that, you know, I'm sitting there thinking about this, "Why are they doing this?"

HANNITY: Well, and what does it mean — see, we — you're sitting on the court. If there ever comes a vacancy on the court once again, Mr. Justice, whoever gets appointed, you're going to watch the politics, the groups, the influence, the politicians that are playing games. That's all going to happen again. What does that tell you about the system?

THOMAS: What does that tell you about it? Is that one that you want your kids to grow up under? Is that one — Byron White...

HANNITY: No, no, no. You want to know? No. I don't — I think what happened to you and what has happened to other justices is — and I'll use one, you mentioned him in the book, is Robert Bork. It's now an adjective, now a verb.

THOMAS: He is a dear friend. I watched that. I watched what happened to Ginsburg. These are all friends of mine. What are we doing? The — what I'm saying is that — and why — you know, people go back and forth about what has happened, which weapon of choice is used against you. It isn't that that's broken; what's broken is that the people who know better are allowing it to happen.

HANNITY: The word that you used then — and I was glad you put back in there your statement, because you had said at one point this was no longer about getting on the Supreme Court. This was about defending your family, and your name, and your honor, and people that weeks ago that you looked up to with awe, I'm paraphrasing, now you had open contempt for, they were not the high and mighty people that you once thought. And you went up there and you used that term "high-tech lynching."


THOMAS: This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. It is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves. And it is a message that, unless you kowtow to an old order, you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured, by a committee of the U.S. — U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.


HANNITY: That's sad for America, you know, at that point. And we're not really far past it. You've been on the court a while, but it's not that long ago.

THOMAS: No, it's not that long ago. But see, I think, Sean, what I tried to do with this book is to tell the story as I saw it and as my wife saw it. We were there, the two of us. Two people that had only been married four years. And to see the effort to destroy simply over ideological differences — somebody has this one issue that's so important that we can kill you over it, not kill you physically, necessarily, but kill you as a person. That's iconoclast, to destroy your reputation, your character, your image. We don't care what we have to destroy to prevent you from getting to the court.

HANNITY: Is it — did we witness it last week with General Petraeus?

THOMAS: I think it's common. The point that I made is we witness it all the time now, that it's now a common practice.


HANNITY: We continue now with more of my cable exclusive interview with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.


HANNITY: A lot of kids out there, they don't have fathers. They don't have a grandfather like you had. They don't have the influence in their lives to make them better people, instilling the values, the mother to show the love that you had as a kid. What do you say to those kids? How do you reach them?

THOMAS: That's why I wrote the book the way I did.

HANNITY: Is this for them?


HANNITY: And when you see kids, for example, living in poverty and living in homes without moms and dad, and the addiction rate as high as it is, what do you think?

THOMAS: It just breaks your heart. You know, Sean, this is — in the early 1980s, when I was a lot more energetic and involved in all these policies, talking about those things initially got me in a lot of trouble. I was in my early 30s, again, and I can remember looking at the 1980 census data, which I referred to in the book, and going around, giving speeches about the out of wedlock birth rate, not to criticize anybody, to point out a problem, look at things like the unemployment rates, the workforce participation rates, et cetera.

And the response, standard response was, I was blaming the victim. I was just trying to call attention to problems that we had — needed to address before it got any worse. So now, what have we got, about 75 percent out of wedlock birth rate among blacks, very low marriage rates, huge problem with black males in colleges, universities, et cetera, graduating from high school.

Now, I don't know what to do, but I do know there are some kids who are still trying. And what I'm trying to do with this book and what I've noticed over the years when I've met with these young people, is that if you connect with them, if they see that you are in the same boat, you had some of the same problems, you didn't have a father either, you can embrace them. They come in. They'll listen to you.

And the unfortunate thing — I really don't care about the critics, but what they've made it difficult, the thing that they've made difficult is getting to these kids who need help. This din, this noise that's prevented some of us, many of us from getting through to those kids and providing them some of the guidance that could help them in their lives.

HANNITY: Just to further comment on that. For example, Bill Cosby has gone on a tour and has said some things that has been widely criticized because he's talked about kids speaking properly and spoken out against rap music and...

THOMAS: So he was attacked.

HANNITY: ... degrading women in the music and...

THOMAS: So he was attacked for that.

HANNITY: Oh yeah, he was attacked.

THOMAS: I don't understand that. This is — what has happened, the - - here's someone who says, this is an accomplished man. This is a talented man who's always cared. I mean, I listened to Bill Cosby albums. As soon as he steps out of that role and tries to say something that would be beneficial to kids who are in the position that he was in at a similar age, then he's attacked.

But that's what — that's been the bulk of my adult life. For the life of me, I don't understand it. I'm the one who lived in Savannah. I'm the one who lived without the father and in these circumstances. And I'm the one who learned from my grandfather. And I'm trying to get these kids to benefit from a little of that.

HANNITY: What gave you the strength to be that individual? Because you know what it's like. Pressure comes from everywhere to conform. Why were you able to — was it — this is — you're your grandfather's son?

THOMAS: I'm my grandfather's son, and that's good enough for me. You know, he was very, very independent. That's why we had to produce our own, learn how to do all our work. He wanted to rely on no one who could do him harm. Out of that use of freedom, proper use of freedom, you become independent.

HANNITY: Last question. Throughout the book, you — you talked about a crisis of faith. You lost your vocation, as I mentioned earlier, when you heard that comment about Martin Luther King, Jr. It went up and down, your faith.

THOMAS: Mostly down.

HANNITY: Well, but where is — so I was wondering where it ended up. Where are you now, and how has that evolved?

THOMAS: Well, I think — my grandfather had a saying that I quoted in there, "that hard times make a monkey eat cayenne pepper."


THOMAS: And I think sometimes when you lose it all, when you're at your weakest, as Paul says, you're at your strongest. And over time, you — it's sort of the journey of the prodigal son. You come back home. And a part of going back home to my grandparents, to their way of life, the way I was raised, was also back to the faith of my youth. And that eventually happened over a decade ago.

So I'm back home, and that's a private matter. You know, people like to say that that affects your — the way you rule on cases. That's not what you do. It's the way you sustain yourself to live up to the oath, and to have a conscience to discharge the responsibilities under that oath properly.

HANNITY: Mr. Justice, thank you for being with us.

THOMAS: Thank you, Sean.

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