Eunice Lee, one of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees, once criticized Justice Clarence Thomas for being a “black conservative,” during his confirmation hearing back in 1991.
Lee, who is currently nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, had expressed annoyance with Thomas while she was a junior attending Ohio State University. She penned a letter that was published in the school’s paper, the Lantern, in which she accused Thomas of only acknowledging the realities of racism when it suited him.
Thomas, she wrote, is “one of that group of black conservatives who feel that black people should focus less on racism and more on self-help.” These black conservatives, Lee added, believe that racism is not “much of an obstacle to black success.”
But when Thomas faced misconduct accusations during his confirmation hearings, Lee claimed that he changed his tune. Thomas, in his opening statement, famously called aggressive questions about his alleged harassment of Anita Hill, a former staffer, a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.”
Lee wrote that this turn of phrase marked the first time that the Supreme Court justice was willing to acknowledge that racism is “an obstacle for millions of other blacks.”
“I might stop short of calling Thomas a hypocrite, but I am reminded of that saying of how there are no atheists in foxholes,” she wrote in her letter. “Perhaps you can also say there are no black ‘conservatives’ when in the political hot seat.”
Utah Sen. Mike Lee, during confirmation hearings on Wednesday, questioned Eunice Lee about the letter, pointing out that Thomas has, in the past, spoken about racism and its effects on black people. Lee replied that the letter “does not reflect the views that I have today.”
“So you no longer regard Justice Thomas as someone who denies that racism is an obstacle?” Mike Lee asked the nominee.
“Well, as I said, I don’t espouse the views in that letter now,” Eunice Lee responded, going on to add that as a judicial nominee, she didn’t think it was appropriate for her to comment on a fellow judge.
Eunice Lee then went on to add that her own personal views would not play a part in the decisions she would make as a judge.