After a bitter confirmation battle, the U.S. Senate voted 52 to 48 to confirm Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court on October 15, 1991. He is the second African American Supreme Court Justice, and the only African American currently sitting on the Court.
Thomas was nominated by George H.W. Bush after Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the Court, announced his retirement in July 1991. Thomas served as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) during the Reagan Administration, and was appointed in 1990 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He served on the DC Circuit for 16 months before being nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Thomas seemed headed for an easy confirmation until Anita Hill, a former aide at the EEOC, accused him of sexual harassment. Beginning on October 11, 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee held four days of televised hearings on Hill’s charges. Thomas denied the charges, and continues to deny them to this day. On October 15, 1991, the Senate narrowly voted to approve Thomas’ confirmation.
Justice Thomas is considered the Court’s most reliably conservative voice. He tends to be very quiet (if not completely silent) on the bench, but broke his 10-year silence to ask a question during oral argument shortly after Justice Scalia’s death earlier this year.
In 2016, many conservatives criticized the newly opened National Museum of African American History for having a display related to Anita Hill, but no display noting Justice Thomas’s legacy as the Court’s second and only sitting black Supreme Court Justice.