ST. LOUIS (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas reunited Friday with his mentor and the man who stood beside him through a difficult confirmation hearing, telling former Missouri Sen. John Danforth he owes him his career.
Thomas spoke at a Law Day event sponsored by the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis. During the speech he turned to Danforth, 80, and told him, "You are the reason why I'm here."
The 68-year-old justice has spent 26 years on the Supreme Court, the second-longest tenure of any current member, and is the court's only African-American member.
But his legal roots are in Missouri. In 1974, Danforth, then the state's attorney general, offered Thomas his first job out of law school, as an assistant attorney general position.
Thomas recalled Danforth's pitch.
"Clarence, I can promise you more work for less pay than anyone in the country," Thomas recalled. "What a marketing scam!"
Thomas worked with Danforth until the Republican was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976. Thomas then worked for Monsanto Co. in St. Louis before re-joining Danforth in Washington in 1979.
President George H.W. Bush nominated Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1991. His confirmation was nearly derailed by Anita Hill's claims that Thomas sexually harassed her.
Throughout the hearings, Danforth, an ordained Episcopal priest, was Thomas' most vocal supporter. In introducing Thomas at the Law Day event he recalled the confirmation process as a "dreadful ordeal."
Thomas said his time working with Danforth showed young lawyers like him that "we could do difficult things without being difficult people."
Thomas' 20-minute speech broke no new ground. One of the court's most conservative members, he discussed the virtues of limited government. He noted that he often sees young people or law students perplexed by that notion.
"Some recoil or react as if something is being taken away," Thomas said. "Yet in the very next breath they might express concern about the government's overreaching under the Patriot Act, for example, or interference with their reproductive rights."
That reaction, Thomas said, makes it clear to him "that even they do not think that the national government has unlimited powers. In a rather glib, simplistic way, they want the government to do what they want it to do, and refrain from doing what they don't want it to do."