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Slow Burn / – S8 Ep. 3: I’m Their Guy

Slow Burn – S8 Ep. 3: I’m Their Guy

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In this episode of Slow Burn, titled “S8 Ep. 3: I’m Their Guy,” the focus is on Clarence Thomas and his journey leading up to his nomination to the Supreme Court. The episode delves into Thomas’ relationships, his views on affirmative action, and his confirmation hearings. It explores the complexities of his personal and professional life, shedding light on the factors that shaped him as a public figure.

Main Takeaways

Building Connections and Securing Jobs

  • Lillie McEwen worked for Joe Biden on the Senate Judiciary Committee and was concerned about her future after the Democrats lost control of the Senate in 1980.
  • McEwen and her colleagues devised a plan to befriend Republicans, including Clarence Thomas, to secure jobs in case they were fired.
  • Thomas and McEwen developed a bond based on their shared backgrounds and personal struggles.

Thomas’ Treatment of Women

  • Thomas never mentioned his ex-girlfriend, Lillia McGuinn, in his memoir, but her experiences with him in the 1980s are crucial to understanding his character today.
  • The years when Thomas mistreated women would later come back to haunt him during a pivotal moment in his career.
  • Multiple women at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had negative experiences with Thomas, who had a pattern of mistreating black women on his staff.

Thomas’ Views on Affirmative Action

  • Thomas was critical of the Reagan administration, both publicly and privately.
  • Although he was offered a promotion to run the EEOC, a position focused on race and discrimination, Thomas didn’t initially want it.
  • Thomas disliked quotas and didn’t believe in the EEOC’s mission, but he ultimately accepted the job and made changes to align the agency with his worldview.

Thomas’ Confirmation Hearings

  • Thomas desired a seat on the Supreme Court and worked to raise his profile as a prominent black conservative.
  • Initially, he had broad public approval, including from Black Americans who were excited to have a black nominee.
  • The NAACP decided not to endorse Thomas due to his inconsistent views on civil rights policy, and abortion rights groups opposed him due to his stance on Roe v Wade.
  • Thomas’ confirmation hearings were believed to be a sure thing, but a story that was going to break on NPR caused concern and added uncertainty.


Clarence Thomas’ Journey and Complexities

Lillie McEwen, a former colleague of Thomas, played a significant role in his life during the 1980s. They formed a connection based on their shared experiences and concerns about their futures. Thomas’ treatment of women, including his ex-girlfriend Lillia McGuinn, would later become important in understanding his character. As the head of the EEOC, Thomas made changes that aligned with his worldview, which pleased white conservatives but drew criticism from black civil rights leaders. Despite his initial broad public approval, Thomas faced opposition from civil rights groups and abortion rights advocates during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. The uncertainty caused by a story about to break on NPR added further complexity to the process.

The Personal and Professional Struggles of Clarence Thomas

Thomas’ personal struggles, including his difficult relationship with his grandfather, shaped his views on success and his treatment of others. His desire to rise in the Reagan administration while avoiding being seen as an affirmative action case created internal conflicts. Thomas’ confirmation hearings highlighted his ambiguous stance on civil rights policy and his limited jurisprudential record. Despite opposition, Thomas ultimately secured a seat on the Supreme Court, leaving a lasting impact on American jurisprudence.


Clarence Thomas’ journey to the Supreme Court was marked by personal and professional challenges. His relationships, views on affirmative action, and confirmation hearings shed light on the complexities of his character and the factors that influenced his path. Understanding Thomas’ story provides valuable insights into the dynamics of power, race, and gender in American politics and society.

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