You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation


My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir

By Clarence Thomas

(Harper, 289 pp., $26.95)

Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas

By Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher

(Doubleday, 422 pp., $26.95)

A society overwhelmed by the culture of celebrity will not suffer from a surfeit of reverence for authority. Authority, after all, requires a mystique, even and perhaps especially in a democracy, where the leveling impulse that is a feature of egalitarian politics can spill over into something ugly, into a cynical, envious, or voyeuristic appetite for the degradation of leaders. In America today, the tell-all impulse is everywhere. Very little in our public life any longer inspires awe. In his classic account of authority, Max Weber emphasized that it drew its legitimacy, in all its forms, from a sense of distance between the authority figure and the people as a whole. Charismatic leaders in particular were individuals who inspired deference, because of their reputations as prophets or people with extraordinary legal or therapeutic wisdom. They were "set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural" qualities. A democracy cannot impute a supernatural basis for the authority of its leaders, but still there are democratic forms of charisma--great deeds or great words or great traits of character that lift people up and inspire admiration. Sometimes, to be sure, contempt for authority is well-founded, and itself a sign that the moral compass is in working order; but one of the things that breeds contempt is familiarity, and certainly the excess of familiarity to which American culture has become accustomed.

Weber did not anticipate the celebrity culture. He would have been horrified by the collapse of the old boundaries between the private and the public sphere. As Richard Sennett has argued, personality has increasingly became the measure of public trustworthiness, and politicians relate to citizens more and more in psychological terms. "The modern charismatic leader destroys any distance between his own sentiments and impulses and those of his audience," Sennett observes, "and so, focusing his followers on his motivations, deflects them from measuring him in terms of his acts." Since old-style oratory looks bombastic and inauthentic on television, political leaders increasingly bid for attention through selective and artificial self-exposure, strategically parceling out personal revelations about their struggles with drinking and desire and disease so as to emphasize not their extraordinary qualities but their ordinary ones. They worry about the political impact of claims to greatness. They want to seem like everybody else, and they want mainly to be loved.

As any has-been celebrity can attest, fame and popularity should never be confused with lasting authority. Celebrity is often fleeting and often brutalizing. As the universal leveling impulse becomes rampant, every celebrity is eventually cut down and exposed to be all too human; and the only truth about figures of authority is believed to be a sordid truth. The sexual inquisitions of the 1990s, which began with Clarence Thomas and ended with Bill Clinton, are a vicious reminder of how casually both political parties have used personal destruction to achieve their goals. There are still some residues of respect for the handful of occupations that continue to be based on impersonal authority: people are disappointed in priests, for example, who are discovered having sex with parishioners. But when it comes to overexposed politicians, the opposite dynamic applies: we are disappointed when they refuse to be scandalized and brought low for our entertainment. Don't they know that we will gladly reward them with "redemption"?

Judges occupy an especially precarious position in the culture of celebrity. Legal authority is based on impartiality, which cannot be achieved without some degree of impersonality. "In the case of legal authority, obedience is owed to the legally established impersonal order," Weber recognized. "It extends to the persons exercising the authority of office under it by virtue of the formal legality of their commands and only within the scope of authority of the office." Far more than the other institutions of democracy, the courts continue to be cloaked in impersonal rituals and uniforms--from black robes to red velvet curtains--to sustain the sense of mystery on which judicial legitimacy depends. There is nothing undemocratic about this mystery.

In an age of transparency, scholars and journalists have naturally tried to pierce the bubble of mystery that surrounds the Supreme Court, peering behind the curtains and under the robes to reveal the real men and women beneath the impersonal symbols of office. We have learned many useful things: inspired by legal realism, modern judicial biographies now recognize that personality and temperament are as important as ideology and politics in shaping judicial decisions. Judges, like presidents, are not gods. But judicial legitimacy in American democracy continues to require a measure of distance--a detachment that will exasperate a tabloid transparency. In the matter of judicial exposure (and self-exposure), we are in the middle of a sea change, and I worry about some of the consequences.

The Supreme Court has responded to these confusing new pressures with appropriate caution. The Court continues (wisely) to resist calls for televising its oral arguments, and has only recently begun to release same-day audio recordings. Under Chief Justice Roberts, the Court now promptly posts transcripts of oral arguments on the Web, and the transcripts only recently began to identify individual justices by name, abandoning the old custom of imperiously attributing every question to "THE COURT." In the past few years, several justices have also begun to give interviews about their backgrounds and judicial philosophies in ways that would have been considered unusual even a decade ago. But unlike the other branches of government, where personal exposure is rampant and almost a requirement for political efficacy, the Court continues to maintain that its members should communicate with the public primarily through formal opinions, and through ceremonial rituals that date back to the nineteenth century.

The most important way that the justices have kept themselves apart from all the other overexposed officials in our celebrity culture is by avoiding tell-all memoirs. Beginning with John Marshall's modest autobiographical sketch in 1827 ("the events of my life are too unimportant ... to render them worth communicating or preserving"), the handful of judicial memoirs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries conformed to a traditional pattern: a few bowdlerized details about formative early experiences without any hint of the authors' real feelings or emotions.

This tradition of discretion was shattered only once, by William O. Douglas's two-part memoir--Go East Young Man, in 1974, followed by The Court Years, in 1980. Douglas's combination of boastful insecurity, unconcealed class resentment toward "the Establishment," and vindictive inability to forget any slight ("This attitude toward 'enemies' ... marked the essence of Nixon's Mein Kampf") remains a cautionary tale in the perils of judicial exhibitionism. The book was lavishly praised by Douglas's admirers: The New York Times said the first volume was "so continuously arresting that it reads like the kind of novel one wishes would not end." (The book was more novelistic than it appeared: Douglas was later revealed to have invented autobiographical details.) But the first volume sold poorly, and when Douglas died his publishers rushed the disorganized second volume into print in the hope of recovering their advances. A slipshod combination of political ranting and snarky gossip about Douglas's judicial colleagues, The Court Years marked the beginning of the decline of Douglas's reputation. Their authors perhaps chastened by Douglas's example, the handful of judicial memoirs published since his literary self-implosion--such as Sandra Day O'Connor's Hallmark-style account of her girlhood on the Lazy B Ranch--have returned to the traditional model of not revealing very much at all.

Enter Clarence Thomas. Before he decided to produce the first tell-all memoir since William O. Douglas, Thomas occupied a complicated place in American culture. He was unfairly caricatured on several levels. Many blacks viewed him as an Uncle Tom for his conservative views about affirmative action. As the rapper KRS-One put it, "The white man ain't the devil, I promise/You want to see the devil, take a look at Clarence Thomas." At the same time, many white liberals accepted the condescending and arguably racist stereotypes of him as an intellectual lightweight who delegated his opinions to law clerks, all the while taking marching orders from his ideological master Antonin Scalia. (Thomas's predecessor Thurgood Marshall, who was derided as a clone of William Brennan, suffered many of the same stereotypes.) Still, Thomas was not universally misunderstood: astute observers of the Court such as Jan Crawford Greenburg and Mark Tushnet have written illuminating books noting that Thomas's colleagues respect his legal abilities in complicated regulatory cases, and that he is far more interestingly radical than Scalia in his willingness to overturn precedents with which he disagrees, and that, far from being a follower, he has on occasion persuaded his colleagues to switch their votes by the force of his arguments.

Like the Bork nomination, Thomas's confirmation ordeal remains a political rallying cry for a certain strain of ideological conservatives. The general public has nearly forgotten the details--a celebrity culture is also an amnesiac culture: daily, weekly, there must be new sacrifices--but Thomas himself has forgotten nothing. Indeed, he cherishes the memories. They organize his universe. If he could have restrained himself from writing this unrestrained book, from revisiting with a vengeful relish all his private humiliations, more and more people might have given him the professional respect that Court watchers increasingly do. And his position in history would have been determined by his provocative judicial ideas rather than by his personal resentments. In a single gesture, however, Thomas has thrown all that away. The justice has written the most injudicious book imaginable. In his hunger for respect and dignity, he has exposed himself more dramatically than any confirmation hearing could have done. And in the process, he has done incalculable damage not only to his reputation, but also to the authority of the office that he occupies.

In many respects, the similarities between Douglas and Thomas are striking. Both had fraught relationships with relatives who repeatedly expressed doubts about whether they were good enough to succeed. Douglas's mother convinced her son that he would be a failure unless he became president, adding that nothing he could ever do would approach his father's greatness. Thomas's grandfather, who raised him after his father and mother all but abandoned him, also refused to grant him unconditional love. After Thomas disappointed his grandfather by dropping out of a Catholic seminary, he was thrown out of the house with a scornful curse: "I'm finished helping you," the grandfather declared. "You'll probably end up like your no-good daddy or those other no-good Pinpoint Negroes. "

These emotionally tortuous childhoods created in Douglas and Thomas a burning anger, insecurity, and sense of class resentment, which they express by railing against institutions that, in their view, failed to recognize their worth. Just as Douglas denounces "the Establishment," Thomas rages against "the man." Both express their insecurity in boastfulness. Douglas begins his memoir bragging that "I have been blessed with a photographic mind." Thomas is similarly boastful: "By all accounts I was an outstanding athlete," he writes. "For all my growing disaffection, I continued to earn very good grades." Neither Douglas nor Thomas ever forgets a slight, and both use their memoirs to settle old scores: Douglas ridicules the hapless Chief Justice Burger; Thomas includes cruel and almost paranoid denunciations of former colleagues on the federal appeals court in Washington.

And both men seem bored by the isolation of the Supreme Court. Their vain books are part of a broader project to connect with a national audience. Douglas complained that he never should have joined the Court, since it was on the sidelines of national politics. He never lost his ambition to be president, and seemed happiest when crowds along the Georgetown towpath applauded him for his environmental activism. Thomas, too, has complained that he would rather be doing something else with his life, and he spends his summers driving an RV across America so he can escape the elites he despises and connect to ordinary people. According to Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher's biography of Thomas, a revealing and nuanced study of his character and temperament, Thomas told a Senate staffer shortly after his confirmation, "Robert, I was only going to stay on the Supreme Court for ten years, but since they pissed me off, I think I'll stay on for life."

In several important respects, however, Thomas has surpassed Douglas. His book is a hit, a huge best-seller. And this runaway success reflects Thomas's daring in taking Douglas's dishy model to the next level: he has produced the first scandal memoir of the federal bench. Douglas's personal self-indulgence is now well known: he dashed off his opinions on the back of cocktail napkins during plane trips to college lectures where he would get drunk and chase coeds, two of whom he married in quick succession. But Douglas omitted his reckless personal behavior from his memoir. Thomas, by contrast, cannot put in enough of it, and his book reads almost like a clinical document, a twelve-step confessional of dysfunction. He confesses that he misled the Bush White House when asked whether he had used illegal drugs. He said he "didn't remember using such drugs," a reply he insists was technically accurate, since he may have been too drunk to recall the times he used pot. Later he has second thoughts about his Clintonian equivocation: "It occurred to me that I might possibly have tried [drugs] once or twice while I was drunk, and I knew that a flat denial might put me at risk of being contradicted, so in the end, in order to put the issue to rest, I said that I had experimented with marijuana."

Pot is the least of what Thomas calls his longstanding fear of slipping into a "vortex of self-destructive behavior." He confesses to a serious drinking problem that began in college, led him to drink and drive, and continued throughout his formative jobs in the private sector and the Reagan administration. "I spent too many nights in the early eighties, drinking alone in a dreary efficiency apartment," Thomas writes. (He was assistant secretary of civil rights in the Department of Education at the time.) Not until Thomas took over the EEOC and a colleague warned him that his political enemies might use his drinking to destroy him did Thomas give up the bottle. In the same exhibitionistic spirit, Thomas confesses his lifelong guilt about leaving his wife and child--the same behavior that he had so resented in his own father. "It was the worst thing I've done in my life, worse even than going back on my promise to Daddy that I would finish my seminary studies and become a priest."

These confessions, like all celebrity confessions, are designed to help Thomas connect with ordinary readers by presenting himself as no better than they are. At their most appealing, his efforts to present himself as a representative man take the form of Booker T. Washington-like speeches of black uplift that he likes to deliver at African American colleges. "Some of you were raised by one or either parent," he told Tuskegee students in 1995. "I was there. Some of you have hardly or never seen your fathers. I was there" But Thomas's homiletical challenge to black students--"disregard cynicism and negativism," "stop negativism and anger"--is one that he can never manage to meet. In his memoir, Thomas's attempts to cast himself as the common man who overcomes obstacles through self-discipline and positive thinking are constantly subverted by his relentless self-pity. His message to black America turns out to be: You think you had it bad? I had it much, much worse. So get over it.

But Thomas himself can't get over a thing. About his own life, you might say he is an originalist. "When I was a boy, Savannah was hell," he begins, recalling the "sickening stench of the raw sewage" and tripping in stale urine from the chamber pot. After graduating from Yale Law School with a backbreaking debt that he would still be paying off two decades later when he joined the Supreme Court, he tries to sell his blood for money, but the nurse turns him down because his pulse is too slow. "I trudged home, thinking to myself that a man who couldn't even sell his own blood to buy a decent meal had sunk pretty low," he writes. "The only good thing about not having any money to spare was that it helped to keep my consumption of alcohol under control." While serving as chairman of the EEOC ("a Sisyphean struggle"), he is nearly evicted from one apartment because he is late with the rent. When he finds another, he can't stand it. "The building was full of cockroaches and the walls were paper thin, but I couldn't afford anything better." This episode occurs during the same period of his life when he is chastising civil rights leaders for their own constant whining. All they did, he told a reporter at the time, was "bitch, bitch, bitch, moan and moan, whine and whine. That doesn't help anything." As Merida and Fletcher put it, "The man who abhors the 'crisis of victimhood,' as he once described the self-inflicted predicament of too many blacks, has turned himself into the most successful victim in America."

Given the crushing poverty that Thomas overcame, he can certainly be forgiven for being scarred by the experience. "He is an extraordinarily talented man who came up from nothing. From nothing," Scalia told Merida and Fletcher. "It's just a shame what's happened to him." But Thomas's fury, self-pity, and sense of victimhood are not directed against those concrete obstacles and deprivations. Thomas rages against shadowy enemies, real and invented, whom he imagines at the center of a conspiracy to deprive his achievements of their true value. In the Immaculate Conception Seminary, he fails to win the "superjock trophy" that "some students thought I deserved." No trophy was awarded that year, but Thomas "couldn't help thinking that I'd been passed over because I was black." At Yale Law School, the powerful alumni network connects Thomas with John Danforth, the Missouri attorney general and future senator, who gives Thomas a job and champions his entire career. Thomas is convinced that affirmative action has made his law degree worthless, because it "bore the taint of racial preference."

When Thomas is brutalized in his confirmation hearings, he views it as the culminating battle against enemy forces--namely the "elites" who have conspired against him for his entire life. "Now in one climactic sweep of calumny, America's elites were arrogantly wreaking havoc on everything my grandparents had worked for and all I'd accomplished in forty-three years of struggle," he thunders. The humiliation is so crushing that it makes his confirmation to the Supreme Court all but worthless. He is in the bathtub when his wife tells him that he has been confirmed by a vote of fifty-two to forty-eight. "Whoop-dee damn-doo," he replies. "Mere confirmation, even to the Supreme Court, seemed pitifully small compensation for what had been done to me."

What made Thomas into a sputtering victimology-mongerer, constantly fulminating against his enemies and rehearsing every slight? Thomas has blamed racism for his troubles at every stage of his career, even as he chastises himself and others for doing so. When a well-intentioned priest encourages him to learn to speak standard English so he will not be thought inferior, Thomas takes it personally. "I thought he was saying that I was inferior because I was black," he recalls, only to acknowledge that "in fact he was treating me the same way he treated many of the other [white] students." During the summer of 1968, Thomas declares, "I was an angry black man," convinced that "no matter how hard I worked or how smart I was, any white person could still say to me, 'Keep on trying, Clarence, one day you will be as good as us,' knowing that he, not I, would be the judge of that." Thomas pledges to overcome "the beast of rage" against whites that "kept gnawing at my soul," but he never does so. After famously complaining of a "high-tech lynching" in his confirmation ordeal, he declares, "Now I knew who 'the man' was. He'd come at last to kill me, and I had looked upon his hateful, leering face as he slipped his noose of lies around my neck."

Thomas's attempt to blame the legacy of segregation for his own unhappiness is, like all social explanations for character flaws, incomplete. As Merida and Fletcher point out, some of Thomas's classmates reacted very differently to their upbringing: they considered themselves relatively privileged for attending Catholic school, and viewed Thomas as "rich" by the standards of the neighborhood, owing to his grandfather's steady business as a fuel oil provider. But Thomas seems to have been scarred by his dysfunctional family: he resented his biological father for leaving him and his mother for remarrying a man who rejected him as well. "Why did my mother choose to marry someone who did not want two little boys?" he asks poignantly years later. He idolized his grandfather as the only stable family member who took him in and gave structure to his life. But Thomas's rejection by his parents made him acutely sensitive to rejection and slights in any form, and he expressed this, from his earliest years, in a smoldering class consciousness directed not primarily at whites but at any "elites" whom he perceived as looking down on him. It is not clear when, if ever, he noticed that he was himself a member, and a rather senior one, of America's elites.

For most of his life, it turns out, Thomas's greatest anger has been directed not against whites but against light-skinned blacks. "Many light-skinned blacks believed themselves to be superior to their darker brethren, an attitude that struck me as not much different from white racism," he remarks. Merida and Fletcher provide more details about the degree of his animosity toward black elites. He raged that light-skinned blacks ridiculed him for his Negroid features and gave him the cruel schoolyard nickname "ABC: America's Blackest Child." But his mother told Merida and Fletcher that she didn't know about these intraracial taunts, emphasizing that "he wasn't teased by blacks." Regardless of whether these insults were exaggerated in Thomas's imagination, they simmered throughout his life, and help to explain his otherwise inexplicable hatred for Yale Law School. He told a law clerk for another justice how rejected and shunned he felt by his black Yale classmates--the "pretty people," he called them--many of whom would later oppose his nomination to the Supreme Court. "I was among the elite, and I knew that no amount of striving would make me one of them," he remarks, by now tiresomely, about his time at Yale. He told visitors to his chambers that "light-skinned blacks" were his enemies because they never viewed him as an equal, unlike "real, grass-roots black people," who treated him well. When his nemesis appeared in the form of Anita Hill's supporters--the same light-skinned blacks who had condescended to him in law school--he viewed them not as political opponents but as the same malevolent elites who had conspired against him throughout his life.

In a memorable character sketch of Justice James McReynolds, the most notorious southern racist ever to sit on the Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes described him not as an interesting lawyer but as an "extraordinary personality--what matters most to him are personal relations, the affections." Holmes continued, "He is a Naturmensch--he has very tender affections and corresponding hates." Thomas, too, views everything in personal terms. He is painfully sensitive to signs of respect from his fellow justices and goes out of his way to emphasize their acceptance of him as an equal. Asked about his relationship with his colleagues, he said, revealingly, that "it is very warm, very respectful. There are no cliques, there are no cabals, there are no little work groups that sneak off and conspire against other people." (Those conspiracies again.) He is the justice best liked by court employees for his warmth and humor, and he can be extraordinarily generous to those who remind him of himself--calling senators, for example, to champion the confirmation of an African American Democratic judge who impressed him.

But Thomas's insistence on personalizing every challenge in his professional life has been his undoing. During his confirmation hearings, even before Anita Hill's allegations became public, Thomas fulminated at the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee for presuming to challenge him on ideological grounds. He says he "endured" the "hostile" opening statements "as I had endured the slights and slurs I had heard all my life, but I found it offensive that this particular group of people was talking about me in such terms. What gave these rich white men the right to question my commitment to racial justice? Was there no limit to their shamelessness?" For Thomas, the personal is the political. No one can question his views without hurting his feelings. His reaction to Hill's charges is similarly personal. "I had tried to help her. She had betrayed me. Now she was on her own."

Repeating the conventional wisdom, Merida and Fletcher write that the Anita Hill episode "has framed the rest of Clarence Thomas's life. He has not been the same man since." This is not convincing. People are not transformed by moments of great stress; they become more like themselves. Thomas's reaction to his confirmation ordeal was perfectly in keeping with his character. Even if Hill's allegations had never been leaked, as Thomas's railing against Senator Joseph Biden shows, he would have insisted that he had been scarred and humiliated, and that his confirmation was worth nothing, merely because Democrats had dared to question his radical constitutional views--views that he downplayed in his hearings but has pursued stridently on the Supreme Court. The Hill allegations were important to Thomas as yet another confirmation of the paranoid narrative that he embraced all his life. "I'd been nominated to sit on the Supreme Court--but my refusal to swallow the liberal pieties that had done so much damage to blacks in America meant that I had to be destroyed. Perhaps I had known that all along."

On Anita Hill: the invasions of privacy that Thomas suffered were unprecedented and troubling, but they were not as bad as they might have been. Biden, whom Thomas vilifies, in fact tried to respect Thomas's privacy by refusing to allow the live testimony and the corroborating witness of another EEOC employee, Angela Wright, who alleged in a sworn statement that Thomas had asked her out on unwanted dates and made sexual comments. More to the point, the Senate never heard the extensive evidence--collected by Merida and Fletcher, as well as by earlier authors--that Thomas had a longstanding habit of watching pornography and telling well-intentioned but clumsy dirty jokes. In college, they report, Thomas "was notorious among his buddies for having a foul mouth and ribald sense of humor," and several classmates recalled that he had a special fondness for the "pubic hair" joke that Hill alleges he told her. Thomas's roommate, James Millet, told Merida and Fletcher that Thomas once looked inside a Coke can on his desk and declared, "Somebody put a pubic hair in my Coca-Cola." Another Holy Cross classmate recalled Thomas making jokes about pubic hair and long penises. So it seems unlikely in the extreme that Hill was fantasizing, as Thomas suggested, when she alleged that he told her dirty jokes involving pubic hair and a Coke can. At the same time, it is also apparent that Hill did not suffer the equivalent of actionable sexual harassment and suffered no tangible consequences for rebuffing Thomas's attentions, if she did in fact rebuff them. Both a former White House aide and a close relative of Hill told Merida and Fletcher that they believed neither Hill nor Thomas was being entirely candid about their relationship, and that they may have been romantically involved.

A few dirty jokes should not have disqualified the man from a position on the Supreme Court; and in light of the disproportionate penalty, he might have been justified in broadly denying Hill's charges during his confirmation ordeal. But Thomas could not let well enough alone. He was determined to recast her not as a prudish and brittle colleague who exaggerated her distress at his clumsy humor, but as the center of a vast conspiracy against him. To support this conspiracy theory, Thomas tends to limit his public appearances and socializing to ideological sympathizers whom he is confident will endorse his vision of reality, all carefully vetted by his even more conspiratorially minded wife. Together they have constructed a dark narrative which holds that Thomas was set up, Fatal Attraction-style. And long after everyone else has forgotten Hill's charges, Thomas has produced this psychologically lurid memoir in which he offers up his conspiracy theory to be validated by the world. Merida and Fletcher report one of Thomas's encounters with Malena Cunningham, a television anchor from Savannah whom, in 1994, Thomas invited to his brother's house for dinner after a speech in which he denounced elite law schools. After the meal, Cunningham recalled that Thomas "brought up Anita Hill and the Coke can." After replying the scenario in his mind, he laughed a loud and boisterous laugh. "He didn't have this righteous indignation," Cunningham recalls. "It was almost as if he were laughing because he got away with something."

This is Clarence Thomas's unique achievement: he will now be remembered as the justice who was determined to have the last laugh. Judging by this book, a less judicious temperament is impossible to imagine. He has revealed himself to be what every litigant most fears: the angriest judge. Although he insists that the job of a judge is to approach cases neutrally and to overcome his personal passions, Thomas has shown that neutrality and self-restraint are precisely those qualities that he spectacularly lacks. We now understand that some of the most memorable passages in his judicial opinions--such as his searing account of the costs of affirmative action, which he calls a "faddish slogan of the cognoscenti" that demeans its intended beneficiaries--are psychological in origin, attempts to get even with the "pretty people" whom he thinks snubbed him in law school.

Unable to view any conflict as a clash of impersonal principles, Thomas insists on reducing all of them to a clash of personal loyalties. If you are for him, he will do anything for you, and if you have crossed him, he will never forgive you. Thomas has overcome great hardships, but the world has also been remarkably good to him. It is no more possible to feel pity for him than for Britney Spears. Having violated his own privacy in a misguided attempt to put himself in context, Thomas can no longer complain when people judge him as a result. It will be hard to respect him as something larger than the sum of his demons. Despite all the humiliations he suffered, the one he has now inflicted on himself by exposing himself so nakedly is the greatest humiliation of all. He has surrendered one of the most precious attributes of his office-- its dignity, and the mystique that helps to protect its authority--because he could not be bothered to control himself. So now his accomplishments include writing the first number one best-seller by a justice of the Supreme Court. Whoop-dee damn-doo.

Jeffrey Rosen is the legal affairs editor at The New Republic.