Clarence Thomas’ new clerk was accused of racist rhetoric. Enter right-wing revisionism

The Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University recently announced that Clanton, class of 2022, had been named by Thomas to be one of his clerks for the 2024-25 term. The law school was renamed after the late conservative justice as the result of a $30 million gift brokered by Leonard Leo, whose mission has been to move the federal judiciary further to the right.

In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Ruth Marcus wrote that Thomas’ decision to hire Clanton was expected “and still it shocks.”

This episode is a stain — and not just on Clanton and Thomas. It taints the entire federal judiciary, which has proven itself institutionally incapable of and unwilling to enforce basic ethics rules.

It’s just another stain on Thomas’ already soiled judicial robe, in the wake of ProPublica reports about how Thomas and his conservative activist wife, Ginni, enjoy a luxury lifestyle thanks to the largesse of billionaire Republican donors like Dallas real estate developer Harlan Crow.

Meanwhile, the Thomases went out of their way to groom Clanton for her current position.

In 2017, The New Yorker’s Mayer obtained screen shots of the racist text message allegedly sent by the then-20-year-old Clanton to a coworker in 2015. At the time, Clanton was the national field director for the far-right student group Turning Point USA, and second in command to its then (and still) head, Trump enthusiast Charlie Kirk.

Clanton responded to Mayer in an email, stating, “I have no recollection of these messages and they do not reflect what I believe or who I am and the same was true when I was a teenager.”

Clanton also told Mayer that she had already resigned from Turning Point. Kirk, on the other hand, indicated that Clanton’s departure was less than voluntary.

“Turning Point assessed the situation and took decisive action within 72 hours,” he wrote in an email to Mayer. Turning Point spokesperson Andrew Kolvet later told WaPo’s Marcus that Clanton “was terminated from Turning Point after the discovery of problematic texts.”

Kirk has made his share of racist remarks. In December, he told a meeting organized by Turning Point that he planned to launch a campaign to denigrate Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, calling the slain civil rights leader “awful” and “not a good person.” And on his podcast after the Boeing 737 Max malfunction in January, Kirk questioned the qualifications of Black pilots. 

In 2015, Kirk referred to King as “a hero.” It’s just another example of how Trump’s MAGA cult has driven the conservative movement further into the right-wing fringe.

In 2018—after The New Yorker story was published—Ginni Thomas, a member of Turning Point’s advisory board,hired Clanton to assist her with right-wing media projects, including podcasts she did for The Daily Caller, which was founded by Tucker Carlson.

Mediate reported it had reviewed a Snapchat message that featured a photo of a man who appears to be Arab and a caption written by Clanton that reads, “Just thinking about ways to do another 9/11.”

Mayer described how the Thomases “unofficially adopted Clanton as the couple’s protégée’ and helped her rise “through the ranks of conservative legal circles.”

The Thomases harbor deep anger at the mainstream media, stemming in part from the Justice’s embattled 1991 confirmation hearing, and evidently saw in Clanton a fellow-victim.

[…]

Remarkably, the Thomases then invited Clanton to live with them at their home in exurban Virginia, for the better part of the next year. The couple encouraged Clanton to go to law school, and Justice Thomas himself recommended her when she successfully applied to the Antonin Scalia Law School, at George Mason University. Justice Thomas also helped Clanton, who graduated in 2022, line up a prestigious judicial clerkship with Chief Judge William H. Pryor, Jr., of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. 

Pryor is one of the most conservative judges on the federal bench, and gave Clanton a strong endorsement. And Thomas recommended Clanton to Pryor after she had clerked for Corey Maze, a Trump-appointed federal district judge in Alabama.

In November 2021, seven Democratic House members wrote a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts urging an investigation into the hiring of Clanton as a law clerk by federal judges Pryor and Maze.

The lawmakers expressed “grave concern” regarding the hiring of “an individual with a history of nakedly racist and hateful conduct.” Additionally, they wrote, “Placing an individual with this history in such close proximity to judicial decision-making threatens to seriously undermine the public’s faith in the federal judiciary.”

But The New York Times reports that both judges were cleared of any misconduct.

A federal judicial panel cleared both judges of any wrongdoing in January 2022. One of the judges who reviewed the matter wrote that Judge Maze and Judge Pryor both had known about the allegations when they hired Ms. Clanton, but that they had determined they were untrue and found her highly qualified.

Clanton has never publicly denied the allegations. But what Mayer finds particularly concerning is that over the past several years, as Clanton’s legal career has advanced, “the story of her alleged racist outburst has been curiously transformed into a tale of victimhood.”

The new narrative is that Clanton was somehow framed by an unnamed enemy who — for motives that remain unclear—fabricated the racist texts to defame her.

This new account has been greeted with suspicion by many. If the revised story is a lie, then it threatens to implicate not just Justice Thomas, who has endorsed it, but several lower-court federal judges and the leader of a major political group aligned with former President Donald Trump. Indeed, the whole affair may prove one of the most shopworn axioms of political reporting—that the coverup is worse than the crime.

Mayer referenced a January 2022 story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which described a letter that Thomas had written to Pryor supporting Clanton’s clerkship.

In his letter, Thomas said he and his wife took in the distraught Clanton after she left Turning Point USA.

[…]

“I know Crystal Clanton and I know bigotry,” Thomas wrote. “Bigotry is antithetical to her nature and character.”

Thomas added: “We have reached a sorry state of affairs when a young adult can be indelibly marked with today’s ‘scarlet letter’ of defamation. This is especially true in the judiciary.”

The Journal-Constitution also reported that Turning Point has changed its story about the events surrounding Clanton’s termination. Pryor said Kirk had sent him a letter that said Turning Point had fired an employee who had “created fake text messages to be used against” other employees, including Clanton.

“The media has alleged that Crystal said and did things that are simply untrue,” Kirk wrote to Pryor. “I have first-hand knowledge of the situations reported on and I can assure that the media has made serious errors and omissions. The sources of these reports are a group of former employees that have a well-documented desire to malign Crystal’s reputation.”

Marcus wrote in her Washington Post column that this revisionist history “is just not credible.”

Consider, for a moment, what would have happened if similar allegations were made about a law clerk hired by a liberal Supreme Court justice.

Eric Segall, a law professor at the Georgia State University College of Law, who served in George H. W. Bush’s Justice Department, did just that.

“Can you imagine what would happen if a Black person who said ‘I hate all white people’ ended up clerking for [Justice Sonia] Sotomayor? You’d never hear the end of it on Fox News,” he said to Mayer. “But there’s almost total silence about this.” 

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