If the Dallas County Democrats, fresh off their election year courthouse romp, think that conservatism is dead in their county, they had best think again. On Oct. 23, 1,560 people gathered in a large ballroom at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in downtown Dallas to listen to a lunchtime chat by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who is on tour promoting his recently released memoir titled “My Grandfather’s Son.” The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank that believes in limited government, free enterprise, traditional values and a strong national defense, and the Federalist Society, a conservative legal network that believes in the principle of judicial restraint, sponsored the event, which according to the Heritage Foundation was the largest event it has staged outside of Washington, D.C., in its 34-year history. Among the assembled were Texas Supreme Court Justices Nathan Hecht and Dale Wainwright, former White House Counsel and former U.S. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, and 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Priscilla Owen. We were treated to sliced chicken on a bed of lettuce (the portions were small, and I ate two because the seat next to me was vacant). Then Thomas and former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont took the stage and seated themselves in high back chairs for what was designed to be an informal interview session— that is, with du Pont asking the questions (something Thomas is loathe to do from the bench) and Thomas answering the questions (something Thomas did quite comfortably and candidly). Thomas dealt with some preliminary questions about how cert petitions are granted. There was nothing conspiratorial about it, he said -- and convincing another justice to actually change his or her mind regarding a legal issue was “almost a Smithsonian moment.” Du Pont then took Thomas through various portions of his book, giving Thomas a chance to re-tell the challenges he has overcome as he raised himself out of poverty to become a Supreme Court justice. Thomas said he felt that the “greatest person” he had ever known was his grandfather who at middle age, had taken on the responsibility of raising him. He listed Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, William Churchill and Abe Lincoln as other individuals he admires. He said he wrote his book to “set the record straight,” although professor Anita Hill, his nemesis at his confirmation hearings 16 years ago, maintains that the portion of the book dealing with her role in the hearings does nothing of the sort. He spoke strongly against the judicial nomination process, which he said has been hijacked by interest groups more concerned with judicial outcome than judicial neutrality. Yet despite his feelings about how politicized the process has become, he remained decidedly charming, humorous and eloquent throughout the interview. The crowd was his from the get-go, giving him three standing ovations. Even if a listener didn’t agree with his judicial philosophy (maybe there was two of us in the crowd), you couldn’t help but be impressed by his compelling life story, which was available in hardback at the ballroom entrance for the list price of $26.95.
-- Mark Donald