Justice Clarence Thomas is the second African American appointed to the Supreme Court. In 1991, he was nominated by President George H. W. Bush, and he’s now the senior associate justice and longest-serving member of the Court. Appointed to replace Thurgood Marshall, the Court’s first African American member, Thomas has since given the Court a decidedly conservative cast. From a legal perspective, Thomas has been hailed as a staunch defender of originalism, which focuses on the original intent of the writers and framers of the U.S. Constitution as opposed to judicial activism. Over the years, Thomas has held significant posts such as Assistant Attorney General in Missouri, legislative assistant to Senator John Danforth, and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education. In his most prominent pre-SC position, he served as Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Following a military draft rejection due to medical reasons, Thomas enrolled himself at Yale Law School in 1971. According to Thomas, his experiences at Yale were eye-opening because it exposed him not only to a rigorous law education, but also to the numerous legal problems of the poor. Thomas had received a grant from the Law Students' Civil Rights Research Council and spent most of his summer days working at the New Haven Legal Assistance Office. Located in an older section of New Haven, the storefront legal aid office was a second classroom for Thomas. Landlord-tenant disputes, consumer issues, and other matters dull but critical to his clientele filled his days. By the time he graduated in 1974 with a Juris Doctor degree from Yale, Thomas was well-prepared for the first phases of his public service career.
Considering that Yale regularly attracts prominent leaders to its lecterns, it is no surprise that Thomas has returned to his alma mater on various occasions. In 2012, Thomas agreed to be the keynote speaker at a Yale Law School alumni dinner, which featured hundreds of Yale alumni and their guests. Two years later, Thomas was back in New Haven, this time to receive an Alumni Award of Merit from Yale. During the public event, which coincided with the 2014 Alumni Weekend, Thomas was joined by fellow Justices (and Yale Law grads) Sonia Sotomayor and Samuel Alito. Together the Justices assessed their experiences at the Law School and offered words of advice to current students. Notably, Thomas said students should make the most of both their academic opportunities and the friendships they forge in college.
Later, in 2017, Yale celebrated Thomas' 25 years on the Supreme court. The Yale Federalist Society and Yale Law School co-hosted a conference in honor of Thomas, who again returned to campus to share his experiences before and while serving on the nation's highest court.