Clarence Thomas' Lover Reflects On DC Life, Love, Law

Judge Lillian McEwenThe featured guest Sept. 22 on my Washington Update radio show will be author and retired federal judge Lillian McEwen. She will amplify on her powerful memoir of overcoming an abusive childhood in the nation’s capital to find happiness, including a tempestuous romance from the early to mid-1980s with future Supreme CouJoe  Bidenrt Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.

By coincidence, she had served as counsel during that time to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-Del.), the future Vice President who presided over the controversial Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991.

By intention, Democratic and Republican senators alike arranged the schedule to leave Anita Hill's sexual harassment testimony largely unsupported on camera This paved the way for Senate 52-48 approval of the nation's second black justice -- by the narrowest vote in a century. Her compelling book, DC Unmasked and Undressed, was published with this description:

In a riveting, brutal, raw, sexually-driven memoir, retired Washington D.C. Federal Judge Lillian McEwen reveals the obsessions and vulnerabilities that drive us all. She disrobes Washington D.C. establishment and puts readers in bed with the men and women who make policy for the Unites States of America. With breathless courage, McEwen draws readers through a punishing childhood and through intoxicating layers of survival and a life lived. With grace and honesty, she reminds us all of the human condition and the reality that we cannot move through this world without being survivors of something.

The show with my co-host Scott Draughon, founder of the My Technology Lawyer radio network, may be heard nationwide live at noon (EDT), and then by archive. Click for link here. The interview begins after our commentaries on Washington-related national news. Listener questions: Call (866) 685-7469 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Clarence ThomasLillian McEwen was born, raised and educated in Washington, D.C. Her stellar legal career spans decades in the city as a prosecutor, counsel on Capitol Hill, a criminal defense attorney, a law professor, and finally as a United States federal administrative law judge at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. She retired from her judgeship in 2007 and still lives in D.C. She has one adult daughter. Book details.

McEwen is only briefly mentioned -- and with her last name misspelled -- in a generally impressive 2007 book about Thomas entitled Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas by Washington Post reporters Kevin Merida and Michael Fletcher. She kept such a low-profile that her name remained misspelled in the paperback edition a year later. That's so even though the co-authors put enormous effort into their thoughtful book and are located, of course, in her own city.
Clarence Thomasat EEOC
 
Ultimately, she decided to tell her story in her own way. Hers is not a typical political memoir, but instead (as reader reviews below indicate) a story in which public and private lives are intertwined, just as they are in real life. Thus she describes visiting the notorious Plato's Retreat sex club in New York City with Thomas. He is portrayed at right when he was chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), responsible for helping resolve complaints about job bias. Her memoir provides her explanation of why Biden did not want to buttress Hill's testimony with McEwen's experiences.
 
Anita HillAnita Hill, 55, is a professor of social policy, law, and women's studies at Brandeis University at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. She was a former colleague of Thomas at two federal agencies before he became a judge. In testifing against Thomas at his 1991 Senate confirmation hearings, she alleged that Thomas had made provocative and harassing sexual statements as her supervisor beginning in 1982. A 1980 graduate of Yale Law School, she worked with Thomas at the U.S. Department of Education and EEOC during the Reagan Administration before resigning in 1983 to become a law professor in her native state of Oklahoma at Oral Roberts University.
 
In her 1997 memoir Speaking Truth to Power and elsewhere, Hill has maintained that she did not intend to step forward publicly with what she regarded as embarrassing experiences. She said she did so only after private conversations and her anonymous outreach reached the ears of anti-Thomas advocates, who gradually outed her before the 1991 Thomas hearings. Then she stood publicly behind what she had said privately.
 
McEwen's memoir focuses on her own experiences. Therefore, she is not clear in her feelings about Hill personally, except that she recalls Thomas as "incessantly" talking about Hill, usually with complaints about her. 
 

Clarence Thomas, is now 63. A Republican, he succeeded noted civil rights litigator Thurgood Marshall as the second African-American on the Court. The Senate pushed through his nomination after President George H.W. Bush described him as the nation's "best qualified" candidate for the post, a view Bush later reconfirmed to authors Merida and Fletcher.

Thomas is shown at left, with his wife,Virginia Lamp Thomas, at a hastily contrived swearing-in ceremony on Oct. 18, 1991. According to Merida and Fletcher, this was a photo opportunity created at the White House with Associate Justice Byron White presiding to keep up public momentum following the Anita Hill sexual harasssment allegations. Chief Justice Rehnquist, whose wife had died shortly before the White House ceremony, later performed the real oath of office in private.

Thomas has gone on to become a reliable vote for extreme conservative causes on the court, and is widely reported to extend himself greatly to uplift conservative groups, mentor young professionals with parallel views and to enjoy especially the company of children, whom he likes to inspire with an up-from-poverty biographry. More formally, he recounts this story in a 2007 memoir, My Grandfather's Son. In it, he speaks movingly of his grandfather, whom he calls "Daddy," praises his friends and his wife, whom he married in 1987, and trashes his opponents. Thomas reportedly received $1.5 million from Murdoch-owned HarperCollins for the once-over-lightly, 289-page memoir, which lacks an index and sources. The book ends with his ascension to the Supreme Court in 1991 in the fake swearing in ceremony at the White House that was for show, with the real swearing-in held later in private. 

Since then, Thomas has come under attack for a variety of reasons. The onetime conservative idealogue David Brock, for example, has undertaken a nearly 180-degree swtich on Thomas since the time Brock was receiving fabulous pay and bonuses and rich book contracts for being a journalistic front man for powerful conservative backers of Thomas and the views they wanted him to enshrine into law. These backers included federal appeals court Judge Laurence Silberman and his wife Ricky, a former EEOC deputy chairman, who helped orchestate a smear of Hill both during the hearing and afterward.

In March 1992, Brock (who initially believed Hill's testimony) devised a 22,000-word portrait of Hill as a near-crazed liar for his magazine audience at the ultra-conservative American Spectator. In 1993, expanded the article into a book, The Real Anita Hill, a 400-page vindication of Thomas that became a best-seller with the help of a network of conservative backers who assisted him in overcoming feminist and liberal obstacles at many mainstream news outlets. In such books as Blinded by the Right in 2002, however, Brock went beyond simply expressing regret for his book. He debunked his article, book, patrons and sources in one of the most specific and contrite literary mea cuplas imagineable. He founded Media Matters, a prominent progressive media watchdog organization to counter what he and it call right-wing disinformation.

Early this year, Common Cause provided evidence to the Los Angeles Times that Thomas had been signing false financial statements for years that failed to provide required financial information about his wife's outside income. The Times broke the story in Clarence Thomas failed to report wife's income, watchdog says.

Later commentators, including our Justice Integrity Project in Let's Take a Closer Look at Clarence Thomas, have expanded on the disclosures and called for more rigorous investigation. Our Project, among others, has noted that the Thomas omissions covered not just a few years, but his entire career -- and that they were sworn statements of the kind that many ordinary citizens are imprisoned for making in parallel situations.

Perhaps at least as important, the omissions obscured his wife's high-level political and poilcy advocacy on precisely the kinds of issues that come before the Supreme Court -- and which the public deserves to be able to learn about through normal channels of sworn statements on such matters as stopping the 2000 Presidential vote recount and allowing in Citizens United corporations to have vastly increased power to dominate federal election results. Thomas has since signed revised statements disclosing his wife's income, and his defenders say that all is well.

Is it? Tune in Thursday to Washington Update to learn what a longtime judge -- and judge of character -- has to say about him and the other powers-that-be who preside over us in the nation's capital. Better yet, there's no reason to treat this as a passive experience. Send in a question. Read the book. Invite the author to speak at a local radio show or to your group. This is a rare chance to understand how government works.

 

 

 

Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment
 
Editor's note: The column above was revised in several respects between the time of its posting and its first 80 page-views. Most notable were: clarifying the time of Judge McEwen's work as counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee and providing more context for David Brock's initial work in view of his later criticism of his work.
 
News and Reviews of DC Unmasked and Unclothed
Excerpts from Amazon.com’s Reader Reviews
(Eight total, averaging nearly five stars out of five. Typos corrected. Click for full text. )


1.    A very realistic story about a black girl growing up in the District of Columbia who has made something of herself as an adult. It's interesting history and also an inspirational book.

2.    This book is unforgettable for several reasons, most prominent of which is that its contents comes as a jarring shock to the sensibilities of one who had come to expect pablum from those who comment on public figures and events.

3.    D.C. Unmasked and Undressed is the best book I have ever read. If you want to know how the secret world of D.C. really works, you must buy this book! Lillian's personal story is inspiring and reveals a fascinating journey from a vicious childhood to a fun-loving adulthood.

4.    D.C. Unmasked & Undressed blows the lid off the traditional memoir. I wasn't sure if I would like it given the age difference between the author and myself. She was completely provocative and fast-paced in her writing. I couldn't put the book down! I read D.C. in three evenings; staying up half the night on the last to finish. This is the book we have all been waiting for whether we admit it or not.

5.    As a progressive, I have always been saddened by Clarence Thomas on the court. People need compassionate justice, yet Thomas is full of hate and intolerance. After reading Lillian's story, I found myself with compassion for Thomas, which surprised me. This is a man full of self-loathing, who hates who he is….While I am sorry that we are stuck with him for many more years, I am more sorry that he is stuck with himself.

Lillian McEwen
6.    This is a very revealing book about one of our Supreme Court Justice's life, one that is not ever expected to be known, but if you enjoy others private and personal stories this is a must read! It is the sort of thing that you expect people to have private lives outside their public jobs, but one never really knows what happens after hours, well until now.

7.    This was a really fun page-turner and it's pretty shocking what the author shares with her readers. Seriously, you will be shocked! It's not your run of the mill memoir, that's for sure.

8.    I read this book by Lillian; it is very sexual, as the Washington Post claimed. I also found it quite profound. I have no reason to doubt what Lillian writes to be only the truth. She exposes herself in a very courageous way….I dare people to buy this book and read between the lines. D.C. is a very strange place.

 

 
Appendix of News Clips
 

 

Clarence Thomas
New York Times, Thomas' ties to a Texas real-estate baron named Harlan, Mike McIntire, June 27, 2011. The two men met in the mid-1990s, a few years after Justice Thomas joined the court. Since then, Mr. Crow has done many favors for the justice and his wife, Virginia, helping finance a Savannah library project dedicated to Justice Thomas, presenting him with a Bible that belonged to Frederick Douglass and reportedly providing $500,000 for Ms. Thomas to start a Tea Party-related group. They have also spent time together at gatherings of prominent Republicans and businesspeople at Mr. Crow’s Adirondacks estate and his camp in East Texas. In several instances, news reports of Mr. Crow’s largess provoked controversy and questions, adding fuel to a rising debate about Supreme Court ethics. But Mr. Crow’s financing of the museum, his largest such act of generosity, previously unreported, raises the sharpest questions yet — both about Justice Thomas’s extrajudicial activities and about the extent to which the justices should remain exempt from the code of conduct for federal judges.

Legal Schnauzer, The Road from Clarence Thomas to Harlan Crow Runs Close to Home, Roger Shuler, June 27, 2011. Mounting evidence indicates Justice Clarence Thomas is so ethically compromised that he should be removed from the U.S. Supreme Court. The latest evidence comes from a New York Times piece about Thomas' ties to a Texas real-estate baron named Harlan Crow. We have discovered that the Thomas/Crow story, in a roundabout way, links to one of our storylines here at Legal Schnauzer. In fact, our story is about judicial chicanery in Alabama, the kind that favors the wealthy over regular citizens. That theme should sound familiar if you have been following the trail of Clarence Thomas' numerous ethical lapses. And it raises this question: How far will some wealthy Americans go to buy justice?
 
Legal Schnauzer, Will Clarence Thomas get away with a federal crime? Roger Shuler, Jan. 25, 2011. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is amending financial-disclosure forms dating back more than 20 years, in an apparent effort to avoid prosecution for making false statements to the United States government. Hal Neilson, an FBI special agent in Oxford, Mississippi, undoubtedly wishes he had been given such an opportunity. He also probably wishes the mainstream press would try to make the kind of excuses for him that are being made for Clarence Thomas.

Washington Post, Supreme Court won't be fully represented, Robert Barnes, Jan. 25, 2011. A combination of events, concluding with the question of which justices will attend President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night, has brought complaints, partisan charges and renewed scrutiny to the court. Justice Antonin Scalia's decision to give constitutional pointers Monday to the House Tea Party Caucus headed by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) prompted a debate among judicial ethicists about whether justices should associate with political groups that have clear interests on issues that will probably come before the court. Before that, the first anniversary of the court's decision to give corporations and unions a greater role in campaign spending brought renewed criticism from liberal groups and complaints about two justices from a government watchdog group.

New York Times, Thomas Cites Failure to Disclose Wife’s Job, Eric Lichtblau, Jan. 24, 2011. Under pressure from liberal critics, Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court acknowledged in filings released on Monday that he erred by not disclosing his wife’s past employment as required by federal law.

Justice Integrity Project, Let's Take a Closer Look at Clarence Thomas, Andrew Kreig, Jan. 24, 2011. The Los Angeles Times published a remarkable story over the weekend about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that deserves active follow up by bar authorities and the mainstream media, not simply legal reform organizations. We'll be pursuing this at the Justice Integrity Project.

Los Angeles Times, Clarence Thomas failed to report wife's income, watchdog says, Kim Geiger, Jan. 22, 2011. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas failed to report his wife's income from a conservative think tank on financial disclosure forms for at least five years, the watchdog group Common Cause said Friday. Between 2003 and 2007, Virginia Thomas, a longtime conservative activist, earned $686,589 from the Heritage Foundation, according to a Common Cause review of the foundation's IRS records. Thomas failed to note the income in his Supreme Court financial disclosure forms for those years, instead checking a box labeled "none" where "spousal noninvestment income" would be disclosed.

Huffington Post, Angela Wright, "The Other Woman" of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas Hearings (Flashback), Florence George Graves, Oct. 21, 2010. Before Virginia Thomas, there was Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas -- and Angela Wright (who?). Angela Wright heard Anita Hill and thought, "I believe her because he did it to me." Her testimony might have changed history. She was subpoenaed. Why wasn't she called?

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