Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is cooperating with producers for a documentary expected to debut in 2020, nearly 30 years after his polarized confirmation hearings and amid recurring speculation over whether he is considering retirement.
Manifold Productions, which interviewed Thomas extensively for the project, entitled “Created Equal,” said its film “will tell the Clarence Thomas story truly and fully, without cover-ups or distortions.”
The production company is led by Michael Pack, formerly president of the conservative Claremont Institute and has worked on previous documentaries with former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon. President Donald Trump has nominated Pack to be head of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, but the nomination has yet to see Senate action.
“Although Clarence Thomas remains a controversial figure, loved by some, reviled by others, few know much more than a few headlines and the recollections of his contentious confirmation battle with Anita Hill,” Manifold Productions states on its website.
With access to the 70-year-old Thomas and an exploration of his Savannah area childhood and early confrontations with racism, the documentary may add a new dimension to the jurist who — beyond the 1991 confirmation fight — is known for an “originalist” approach to the Constitution that makes him the most conservative member of the bench.
He rarely asks questions at oral arguments and keeps public speeches to a minimum. Yet Thomas, who is only the second African-American to sit on the Supreme Court, after Thurgood Marshall, authored a provocative, deeply personal 300-page memoir in 2007. The book, My Grandfather’s Son, detailed his impoverished early life and, after being abandoned by his father, his transformed youth and education with a stern grandfather.
The producers say the film “is intended for national audience on PBS and ongoing educational use in classrooms.” No other details were available from Manifold Productions, whose films have previously aired on PBS, or the Supreme Court Public Information Office.
Movies focused on Supreme Court justices are a rarity. Last year, CNN Films produced an Oscar-nominated documentary, “RBG,” on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a pioneering women’s rights lawyer who became the second woman on the Supreme Court.
The producers of the Thomas documentary appear ready to confront the explosive sexual harassment allegations of Hill, a former employee of Thomas in the 1980s. Thomas categorically denied the claims and described the Senate Judiciary Committee airing of them as “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas.”
Hill, too, has become more visible recently. Last September, as the Senate confirmation hearings of Justice Brett Kavanaugh were underway, she wrote an op-ed in The New York Times regarding senators’ handling of sexually charged allegations by Christine Blasey Ford. Hill has also continually criticized how she was treated in 1991 by then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden, now running for president.
Pack’s Manifold Productions plainly is trying to broaden the public impression of Thomas. “[T]he personal odyssey of Clarence Thomas is a classic American story and should be better known and understood,” it writes in a description of the project. “His life began in extreme poverty in the segregated South, and moved to the height of the legal profession, as one of the most influential justices on the Supreme Court.”
As the Supreme Court has grown more conservative over the years with new appointees, Thomas has won more support for his positions on the far right. Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first appointee, has particularly aligned with Thomas.
Thomas could be at the apex of his power in upcoming years. Yet, some legal commentators have speculated about a possible retirement, perhaps to give Trump an opportunity for a younger conservative to seal the Thomas legacy.
Questioned about his retirement plans in March, he told an audience at Pepperdine University, “I’m not retiring.”
In 20 years, he was asked.
“No,” Thomas said.
In 30 years?
“No,” he said, again.