Clarence Thomas is the Answer to the 1619 Project

Sonny Perdue is sworn in as the 31st Secretary of Agriculture by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with his wife Mary and family April 25, 2017, at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.. Photo by Preston Keres
January 24, 2020 Topic: Politics Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RacismMedia BiasNew York TimesClarence ThomasSupreme Court

Clarence Thomas is the Answer to the 1619 Project

We spoke to the maker of a new Clarence Thomas documentary about his life.

It’s a great illustration of that path, which is maybe not adequately celebrated today. So I think although it’s of the moment, it’s beyond that.

Stepman: Yeah, absolutely. And to get more [to] the connection to now modern politics, you could say one of the more interesting aspects in the movie is getting into Thomas’ confrontations and his battles in the Senate, especially with now-presidential candidate Joe Biden, who was the chairman, I believe, of the Judiciary Committee at the time.

Today is actually the anniversary, the 47th anniversary, of Roe v. Wade. Obviously, Clarence Thomas has been critical of that decision. That did come up during his hearings. But there’s actually an interesting moment.

I wonder if you could explain where Thomas actually talks about his battles with Biden and some of the debates over natural law jurisprudence in the Constitution. Can you kind of talk about that a little bit?

Pack: Yes. Justice Thomas’ attitudes toward natural law are actually a theme of the film and his sense of how natural law and originalism inform his jurisprudence.

But in the first part of the hearing, Biden asked extremely complex philosophical questions along those lines. But for Justice Thomas, it was that they were a meandering way to get him to say something about Roe and to commit himself. And I think this was the first part of the hearing.

Some people don’t remember that his hearings had two parts. There was a week of very grueling testimony where the Biden inquiry came in. And also they accused him of lots of stuff—smoking marijuana, being an anti-Semite—that he had to answer that was in the press. Plus, very tough grilling.

Then he felt it was over. And these senators had voted split on the committee, but sent his name forward. And then when this full Senate was getting ready to vote, the Anita Hill allegations were leaked. And then it went back to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

So it’s in the first hearing that Joe Biden sort of pressed him on natural law, as Justice Thomas says, as a way to get him to say something about Roe that they could use as a reason not to confirm him. … Since you say, it’s the anniversary of Roe, many, many of the groups opposed to him had that as their explicit reason for doing it. I mean, it was a very political, very concerted effort.

Stepman: Yeah. Again, there seems to be some connection, especially when you talk about the modern Kavanaugh hearings as well, that that issue seems to come up very big and play prominently.

And then, of course, you get the ugliness of the accusations, the sexual assault, and, of course, the media really plays into that as well in creating that storm.

So one question I think I’d like to ask is who is your intended audience of the movie? If you could sit any group of people in this country down and say, “Watch this movie,” who would it be?

Pack: I really made the movie for people who don’t know Justice Thomas and don’t have their minds made up. Those are beyond just your listeners.

I believe it’s convincing to people who don’t know him and have many of these misconceptions: he’s quiet, he doesn’t speak, he’s not smart, he doesn’t have many opinions, he’s not active on the court. And I think you can’t think that after you see this film.

… It’s going to be in movie theaters, as you said, Jan. 31. And the people who are partisans of Justice Thomas and maybe your listeners need to go and show up and buy tickets. The people on the other side are very good at doing that.

Our film is often compared or contrasted to “RBG,” about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It did fabulously well at the box office. All of her fans … showed up. So the people who might be sympathetic to Thomas have to show up, too.

It’ll be in 15 or so theaters on Jan. 31, and if people show up, it’ll be in many more. They can go to our website,, and see where it’s playing in their area. And if it’s not playing and there’s a big enough group of 30 or 40, we can make a showing in the area that they are [in]. There’s ways to sign up for that on the website.

So the purpose of the film is really to bring Justice Thomas back to the prominence and respect that he deserves. And I don’t think that will happen unless there’s some groundswell out there. So I hope that your show helps create that groundswell.

Stepman: Yeah, we definitely hope so, too.

It’s interesting. There were some controversies at the African American museum here in Washington, D.C., that Clarence Thomas didn’t get enough of a prominent position.

Obviously, you could say, at this point, [he’s] one of the greatest Americans who’s been on the Supreme Court, and has an incredible story. I think that’s inspirational, especially for young Americans who do grow up in bad circumstances.

I mean, few have experienced the kind of struggles that he did as a young man and yet rose to this position and became not just a man who succeeded but is such a learned man and understanding of the law, really one of the most prominent positions in American life.

It seems that a lot of young Americans, in particular, can learn from that story and create an inspiration that they can empower themselves rather than feeling like victims.

Pack: Absolutely. That is really true. And we hope that beyond its time in theaters and on TV, or wherever it goes, that we’ll be able to get excerpts from it and curriculum materials into schools [for] Black History Month. There’s a lot of counter narratives to that.

The 1619 Project has curriculum materials and Black Lives Matter and there’s [the] reparations movement. And we hope that our film, or parts of our film, with curriculum materials can be incorporated into every high school across America because I think it is inspiring to young people, especially African Americans, but not only. And I think it’s a counter narrative to the sort of victimhood that many put forward. I mean, it’s another way of living your life that Justice Thomas illustrates, and I think it is very inspiring.

Stepman: Yeah, that’s great. That’s definitely maybe a pro-1776, a man who’s actually experienced racism and terrible things in this country yet embraces the principles that made America great to begin with. Truly inspiring story, as you said, very much counters the opinions of some at the 1619 Project that directly counters and says that are founding ideals are wrong. So absolutely an inspirational story.

Michael, thank you so much for joining us. The name of the movie is “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words.” It’s out Jan. 31 and it’s definitely going to be a must-see. Thank you so much, Michael, for joining us.

Pack: Thank you. And go to that website,

Stepman: Thank you very much.