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American Politics | Judges | Law and Politics | Law and Psychology | Other Political Science | Other Psychology | Personality and Social Contexts | Supreme Court of the United States


This paper presents the results of an indirect assessment of the personality of U.S. Supreme Court associate justice Clarence Thomas, from the conceptual perspective of Theodore Millon.

Information concerning Justice Thomas was collected from biographical sources, speeches, and published reports and synthesized into a personality profile using the second edition of the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria (MIDC), which yields 34 normal and maladaptive personality classifications congruent with Axis II of DSM–IV.

The personality profile yielded by the MIDC was analyzed on the basis of interpretive guidelines provided in the MIDC and Millon Index of Personality Styles manuals. Justice Thomas’s primary personality patterns were found to be Contentious/oppositional and Reticent/inhibited, with secondary features of the Conscientious/respectful pattern.

The amalgam of Contentious and Reticent patterns in Justice Thomas’s profile suggests the presence of an adaptive, nonpathological variant of Millon’s conflicted avoidant syndrome. People with this personality composite seek social acceptance while simultaneously anticipating rejection and disillusionment. They have a disproportionate fear of failure and humiliation, but see little alternative but to depend on supporting persons and institutions, which kindles resentment. To protect themselves from the feelings of anger and anxiety prompted by this inner conflict, they tend to withdraw from social interaction or public view.

The major implication of the study is that it offers an empirically based personological framework for understanding the enigmatic Justice Clarence Thomas, who claims to be untroubled by the harsh judgment of his critics while simultaneously casting himself as a besieged victim. In truth, he is hypersensitive to rejection and deeply resentful of his detractors, yet his strong need for acceptance and respect make it difficult for him to confront his critics directly, which carries the risk of further alienation.


The research was conducted at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics (USPP), a collaborative faculty–student research program in the psychology of politics at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict in Collegeville and St. Joseph, Minnesota, directed by Aubrey Immelman, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, who specializes in the psychological assessment of presidential candidates and world leaders.

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This report was prepared for Kevin Merida in support of the background research for his book, with Michael Fletcher, Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas (2007).

Immelman-quote_Clarence-Thomas_Supreme-Discomfort_p-5.JPG (79 kB)
Image of page 5, "Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas" by Kevin Merida and Michael Fletcher (2007)