Welcome. If you’re at home, tune in to C-SPAN, which is rebroadcasting the recent book party for Justice Clarence Thomas. Justice Thomas’s eagerly anticipated memoir, My Grandfather’s Son, is now in bookstores — and topping the bestseller charts (to the relief of his publisher, HarperCollins, which reportedly paid him a $1.5 million advance).
7:05: The party is being held at the elegant, red-brick Capitol Hill home of radio host and syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams. Expected to attend: 250 guests, including six Supreme Court justices, Vice President Dick Cheney, and several U.S. senators.
Armstrong Williams is interviewed. He explains that the party has been in the works since June. An overwhelming turnout is expected; more people were turned away than allowed to attend.
7:08: Justice Thomas climbs the stairs. When he enters the kitchen — which is right at the top of the stairs, and thus (oddly) where everyone enters and exits — he’s greeted by hearty applause.
Various guests hug him. One guest gushes over his 60 Minutes appearance. CT explains that CBS News made no promises about the nature of its coverage. Interesting. Considering how flattering that segment was, and how uncritical Steve Kroft was in his questioning of Justice Thomas, one might have suspected that Brangelina-type stipulations were in place.
More after the jump.
7:10: The unidentified woman, who praised CT’s 60 Minutes interview, appears to be an old friend. CT asks how her son is doing, recalls that she recently moved, and asks about how she likes her new house. As many observers have noted — e.g., Jeffrey Toobin, in his critically acclaimed bestseller, The Nine — Justice Thomas has a deft personal touch.
(In the background, the house alarm beeps repeatedly, each time guests enter. It’s annoying and distracting. Shouldn’t someone have turned it off?)
7:12: CT speaks with Dr. Benjamin Carson of Johns Hopkins, a leading African American doctor, and discusses chess with Maurice Ashley, the first African American chess grandmaster. A reader observes: “Justice Thomas talks off the ear of the chess master from New York about what a great chess player Thomas Sowell is.”
7:13: CT chats with Kent Williams, a South Carolina state senator (Democrat).
7:15: CT speaks with an unidentified white woman, in a ridiculous hat, who gushes over his book and tells him she bought forty — forty! — copies. She says she works at the EEOC. That probably doesn’t bring up pleasant memories for CT. Also, she looks like Nina Totenberg, of whom Justice Thomas is not a fan.
7:16: Justice David Souter has arrived! He thanks CT for writing the book, and CT thanks DHS for coming out. It’s a big deal, since the reclusive Souter seldom leaves his house (except to go running and get beat up).
7:17: Hey look, it’s Nino! Justice Antonin Scalia arrives and shakes hands with Armstrong Williams, thanking him for hosting the party.
7:18: Justice Thomas chats amiably with Julian Bond, NAACP Chairman. Surprisingly cordial; you wouldn’t expect these two to be besties.
7:18: Now Justice Scalia chats with Julian Bond. Justice Scalia tells Bond, “We’ve actually met before, years ago…”
It’s a very friendly encounter. Welcome to the Twilight Zone…
7:18: Wow, that was a speedy exit! Justices Souter and Scalia leave. CT calls out, “David, I’ll see you tomorrow!”
(Talk about a cameo! They were in and out in like that.)
7:19: But as soon as justices leave, more show up. There’s Chief Justice John G. Roberts!
7:20: JGR shakes CT’s hand and says jokingly, “Hi, I’m John Roberts, nice to meet you.” CT warmly responds, “Thanks for coming by, Chief.”
7:21: Okay, this is an Article III groupie’s wet dream. Now Justice Stephen G. Breyer is in the house!
JGR and SGB hover over the buffet table, eyeing the crudités. JGR is drinking Pepsi — regular, not diet — straight from the can. How everyman of him! Clearly he is not gay; otherwise he’d have poured it into a prissy plastic tumbler.
SGB is sipping some liberal-looking beverage, with sizable chunks of fruit floating in it. Sangria?
7:24: Secretary Michael Chertoff arrives, rocking the “no visible hair” look: totally bald head, no moustache. You’d think it would make him even more Skeletor-like than usual, but it actually works. He looks youthful, trim, and kinda badass, in a Matrix-y sort of way — in other words, exactly like we’d like a Secretary of Homeland Security to look.
Secretary Chertoff says he’s known CT for several years. He says he has “great respect” for CT, and looks forward to reading the book.
The interviewer notes that Chertoff was chatting earlier with Chief Justice Roberts. Chertoff points out that they were schoolmates: Chertoff was a year ahead of JGR at Harvard Law School.
7:25: A warm welcome for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg! She’s wearing an eye-catching, orange-red jacket, and an expensive-looking shawl (floral print on black).
(Oh, and Vice President Dick Cheney and Dr. Lynne Cheney just arrived. But to us, a Supreme Court justice is far more exciting than a Veep.)
7:27: Time for the “official” part of the evening. Armstrong Williams delivers brief remarks. He issues shout-outs to Vice President Cheney and to Justice Thomas’s Supreme Court colleagues, mentioning each by name (including DHS and AS, even though they appear to have left the building).
(The two justices who missed the festivities: John Paul Stevens and Anthony M. Kennedy.)
Williams, who was CT’s assistant when CT was chairman of the EEOC, describes the justice as his lifelong mentor and friend. He praises Justice Thomas’s new book, and CT jokingly interjects: “My last book!”
7:28: CT takes the stage. He thanks Williams, and he thanks his SCOTUS colleagues. He says that even when they disagree, they maintain a tremendous amount of respect and friendship for one another. Most of all, he thanks his wife, Virginia Lamp Thomas.
CT especially thanks his wife for being patient with him during the writing of his book, which was a lot harder than he expected. The book provides a message of hope for people who are struggling through their lives — a positive, constructive message. He talks about how his grandfather, despite living in the segregated South, was never bitter about his lot in life.
7:30: CT praises his grandfather, who taught him and his brother the importance of the Golden Rule, of treating others with the respect and kindness you’d like to receive yourself. His grandfather, despite a reputation for sternness, wasn’t a harsh man – he was a hard man, “because life was hard,” but a good man.
7:32: Williams retakes the podium. He echoes the praise of Ginni Thomas, whom he calls his “sister,” and says everyone needs a Virginia Lamp Thomas in their life.
The camera turns to Virginia Thomas, who is looking svelte. She’s definitely lost some weight, but she’s still curvaceous. She’s wearing a tastefully understated black suit with white piping. Accessories are standard-issue for D.C: pearl necklace, matching earrings. Good hair: sufficient volume, but not too big (as you might expect from a woman who rides around in an RV, overnighting in Wal-Mart parking lots).
7:34: Virginia Thomas is interviewed. She talks about some of the editorial suggestions she gave to her husband. She’s asked about the 60 Minutes interview and says she found it “very fair,” which isn’t always the case with mainstream media accounts of her husband.
7:35: Senator Arlen Specter chats with CT. From a reader:
Arlen Specter asks Thomas if he has read Anita Hill’s response [namely, her New York Times op-ed]. Thomas looks at him like, “Ummm, who is this guy and why is he here?”
But Justice Thomas responds politely to the senator. He explains that “I had to write about the confirmation,” because otherwise people would raise questions, but that his bitter confirmation fight is not the focus of his book. The book is about his whole life.
7:37: Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., has arrived — a bit tardy. As he reaches the top of the stairs, he greets former Solicitor General Ted Olson. Justice Alito also shakes hands with Vice President Cheney, who’s on his way out — places to go (and invade), people to see (and shoot in the face).
7:37: Justice Alito is interviewed. SAA praises CT as a colleague. He’s asked whether he might write a book himself, and he says no.
(No surprise there. Justice Alito’s straight-laced life doesn’t make for the great copy that Justice Thomas’s Horatio Alger story does. And the Alumni of Princeton, no matter how Concerned, can’t compete with even a single pubic hair dancing on the lip of a Coke.)
By the way, Justice Alito is looking good, handsome and youthful. Like Virginia Thomas, he too has lost some weight. Now the family resemblance between him and his hottie son, Phil Alito, is much clearer.
Congratulations, Justice Alito! What’s your diet regimen? Justice Scalia had some success with the Atkins diet a few years ago, but he’s gained much of the weight back since. Hopefully you will fare better than the other half of “Scalito.”
7:38: CT chats with John Bolton, the controversial ex-ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton is wearing a button-down shirt. Tut tut.
Bolton has a book coming out next month entitled Surrender is Not an Option. We’re taking a wild guess here, but don’t expect that book — by an unpopular, walrus-moustached, former ambassador to the U.N. (can you get any more powerless) — to set sales records.
Justice Thomas and John Bolton commiserate over how demanding it is to do audio versions of their books. You get a hoarse voice pretty darn fast. They also trade notes on the size of their, er, manuscripts. Bolton’s book weighs in at 180,000 words (again, this isn’t screaming “bestseller”). CT’s book runs to 120,000 words, but the manuscript was over double that. He had to cut a ton in the editing process.
7:42: Oh look! It’s Martha-Ann Alito, whom we adore.
What’s the only thing more fabulous than Martha Alito? Martha Alito after a makeover! Her hair is short and chic, a frosted grey-brown, and her skin looks fantastic, radiant. Who’s her dermatologist? She also earns fashion props for her chic tan jacket, with mandarin collar.
(Robin Givhan, eat your heart out.)
Mrs. Alito is interviewed about her own reading habits. She praises The Samurai’s Garden, by Gail Tsukiyama. Quip: “Novels and chocolate are the best drugs one can have.” Amen to that!
On the Thomases: “I love Ginny and Clarence. He’s now showing the world the man he truly is.”
7:43: SAA and Senator Specter talk baseball, discussing their beloved Phillies. This goes over our head because we know nothing about sports. SAA explains that the reason he was late to the party was because he was catching the Phillies game: “I have my priorities!”
7:44: CT chats with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about football. Again, it’s Greek to us.
7:46: CT talks to Stephen Smith, the ESPN commentator who recently hired high-powered (and high-priced) counsel, for possible legal action against the Philadelphia Inquirer. More sports talk. Where are all the legal nerds at this party?
7:47: We spy Justice Souter across the room — guess he hasn’t left after all (even though CT said good-bye to him). Maybe he just stepped outside for a ciggie?
(Oh wait, DHS doesn’t smoke. The super-healthy, yogurt-loving justice would be more likely to go for an impromptu jog than a cigarette.)
7:50: CT chats with his big-haired book publicist, who expresses her delight at all the great publicity the book is getting. We’re guessing she came down from New York, because she gives off a very NYC vibe. She’s wearing lots of black, including a black top with a sheer collar and sheer sleeves.
7:52: Overheard from CT: “I love Donna Brazile.” Really? That’s wild.
Update: Or maybe not so wild. See here.
7:53: Another shot of Justice Alito. Having lost all that weight, he actually looks a lot like Chief Justice Roberts, but with darker hair (and a somewhat more receding hairline — but remember, JGR has that oddly placed bald spot on the back/top of his head).
SAA chats with Stuart Taylor, who has a new book out. (But we’re not going to mention the title or link to it, because we weren’t invited to his book party. Yeah, we’re pissy that way.)
7:54: Party over! Wasn’t that a blast? For legal geeks, it was the equivalent of the post-Oscars Vanity Fair party. Magnificent!
My Grandfather’s Son [Amazon]
The Ultimate In Reality TV: Justice Thomas’s Book Party [WSJ Law Blog]