Thomas Called 'Unworthy' of Giving Graduation Speech
Steve Brown
Staff Writer

(CNSNews.com) - A petition objecting to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as the University of Georgia Law School commencement speaker this month claims Thomas is "unworthy" because of his opinion in the court's December 2000 decision that ended the recount of Florida's votes in the last presidential election.

UGA law professor Donald Wilkes said 11 faculty members and 50 students have signed the petition objecting to Thomas and the "stealthy" selection method for choosing a commencement speaker.

"Justice Thomas's participation in the scandalous Bush v. Gore decision is, without more, sufficient to render him unworthy of being invited to give the graduation speech," Wilkes said.

But it appears the petition is falling on deaf ears among decision makers at the institution. UGA Law School Dean David Shipley said Thomas would speak as scheduled.

"Justice Thomas will be our graduation speaker on May 17," Shipley told CNSNews.com. "I think we'll have a wonderful ceremony, and the vast majority of the people on the faculty and the student body are excited that he's going to be our speaker."

Shipley noted that Thomas, a native of Pin Point, Ga., had risen from "humble beginnings" to eventually become a Supreme Court justice.

"It's a great honor for us to be able to have a Supreme Court justice as our graduation speaker," Shipley said, noting that he heard Thomas give "an outstanding speech" at the Georgia Bar Convention this past summer.

Although some controversy ensued when the decision was made and Thomas accepted in November, the debate heated up again last week.

Wilkes described the number of people who've signed the anti-Thomas petition as "roughly one-third of the law school faculty and includes the only tenured black professor at the law school.

"The decision to invite Justice Thomas is appalling, unwise and perverse - the embodiment of bad judgment," Wilkes told CNSNews.com.

The petition argued the selection process was "under inclusive, clandestine and divisive," and claimed the decision to have Thomas deliver commencement remarks was "divisive and disrespectful to a substantial number of students and their families."

Wilkes said the decision was "made by a handful of students who did not consult the student body as a whole" and "has produced enormous friction among the students and the faculty.

"We've never had such difficulties before or in the past over the selection of commencement speakers we've had," Wilkes said, adding that "almost every law school where Thomas goes, there are protests and demonstrations. This is certainly not the first."

According to Shipley, the graduation speaker selection process varies from year to year.

"Some years, I've gotten a recommendation from the students; other years, I haven't," said Shipley. "But this year, the officers of the graduating class and an officer of the second year class came forward and asked 'Can we try to get him (Thomas) as a graduation speaker for our class?' and I said 'Yes.'"

Wilkes, who said he won't be attending the graduation ceremony, said he would be giving a speech at the same time on a separate part of the campus.

"I will talk about Justice Thomas's very deplorable record on protecting individual rights since he's been on the Supreme Court," Wilkes said.

Wilkes circulated an open letter on campus Feb. 18 going into detail and criticism of Thomas's voting record and numerous Supreme Court majority opinions.

Wilkes saved some of his harshest criticism for the Bush v. Gore decision, which he called "the most egregiously partisan ruling" in the Court's history, where he said Thomas and the majority let their "desire for a particular partisan outcome have priority over legal principles."

No stranger to being blackballed and protested against on college campuses nationwide, conservative author and lecturer David Horowitz told CNSNews.com: "This is just an example of the left's witch-hunting mentality.

"This is a disgrace to the law school of the University of Georgia, this attitude," Horowitz said. "It's racist, and it's time for it to stop."

Law school student Katie Wilcox told independent UGA newspaper RedandBlack.com that Thomas speaking at the commencement was an honor regardless of his politics.

"The point many miss, I think, is that he will likely speak on his path to the Supreme Court, overcoming great odds to achieve," Wilcox said. "(He) will urge us all to go out and do great things, exactly what a graduation speaker should do."