I don’t generally enjoy reading newspaper profiles of people in the news, but Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher have done a good job with this, the first part, of a two part profile of Clarence Thomas. I have a deep admiration for Thomas because I think he is willing to be unpopular for the sake of meaningful ideas. While I love the outspokenness of Scalia, I hope Thomas is the next Chief Justice, though I don’t know that he could stand the confirmation process.

This is the Clarence Thomas rarely seen — the maneuvering mentor and political adviser, a justice who’s far more engaged in official Washington than he lets on. From his oak-paneled suite on the court’s first floor, Thomas keeps tabs on the capital’s gossip, dispenses advice to his understudies, chats up commentators — he goes to Baltimore Orioles games with George Will — and even phones senators to lobby for Democratic judicial nominees. Few ever know. According to several black judges interviewed by The Washington Post, Thomas has intervened or offered help on behalf of several stalled African American judicial nominees.

For him, the Supreme Court is not just the preeminent temple of law, where landmark cases are argued and momentous opinions written. It is a secluded, peaceful sanctuary in which to operate, a shield against those who would tear him down. Unlike the other branches of government from which Thomas graduated, where the cameras are always trained on you and leaks can flow like a mighty stream, the court is his tenured escape from the wars of Washington that nearly destroyed him.