University defends Judge Thomas teaching job amid impeachment calls

WASHINGTON — George Washington University, in Washington, DC, has rejected calls to remove Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas from its law school by students and others frustrated with the judge’s vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and his exhortation to reconsider other landmark civil rights cases.

In a message to campus this week, officials defended Thomas, who has taught at the law school since 2011.

“Because we strongly support the exchange of ideas and deliberation, and because debate is an essential part of our university’s academic and educational mission to develop future leaders ready to solve the world’s most pressing problems, the university will not terminate Judge Thomas’ employment or cancel his class in response to his legal opinions,” the executives wrote Tuesday.

The school’s stance, however, has left many students unsatisfied, said Jon Kay, a rising junior who started a petition calling for Thomas to be fired. The petition garnered nearly 9,000 signatures, including from people outside the university, in less than a week, and organizers are considering other ways to pressure administrators to change course.

The dispute is another flashpoint in the college free speech debate, as students demand a greater say in who should be on a university’s payroll and what ideas can be tolerated on campus. In another recent case, students at Georgetown University Law School in Washington, D.C., also clashed with officials over Ilya Shapiro, a former administrator whose tweets about President Joe’s pledge Biden to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court sparked a months-long investigation. Shapiro, after being placed on paid administrative leave, was cleared but resigned, citing a hostile work environment.

Meanwhile, administrators are under increasing pressure to portray their schools as places where students and faculty can openly disagree with each other, while ensuring community members feel safe and welcome. George Washington University leaders – referring to the school’s guidelines on academic freedom – said “it is not the role of the university to attempt to protect individuals within or outside outside the university of ideas and opinions which they find intrusive, distasteful or even deeply offensive”.

Thomas’ views do not represent those of the university and, like other professors, he “has academic freedom and freedom of expression and research,” officials said.

Jordan Michel, a recent law school graduate and past president of the GW Law Student Bar Association, said he attended Thomas’ Constitutional Law Seminar last fall, a class in which students discuss the background surrounding Supreme Court cases, rather than just the legal analyzes or facts that were considered in the court’s opinions. The course is co-taught by Gregory Maggs, the former court clerk.

“He’s very disarming in person,” Michel said of Thomas, adding that it sounded like he “really enjoyed [teaching].” He said Thomas was on campus for almost every weekly class meeting.

Michel says he enjoyed the content of the course. But students sometimes felt like they were “walking on eggshells” when discussing certain topics, such as gun rights or affirmative action, because they felt like they already knew Thomas’ position. .

Now he supports calls to remove Thomas from the faculty.

“Law students agree that it’s important to have diverse perspectives,” said Michel, 36. “But when someone who is supposed to educate us does not subscribe to the ethical, legal and moral obligations that we are trying to meet, it becomes problematic for us.

Some law school alumni are considering withholding donations while Thomas remains at school, Michel added. Thomas and Maggs are expected to teach the course again this fall, a university spokesperson said.

Other graduates support the university. “I don’t like the idea of ​​’this teacher is repulsive to something outside of the classroom and should therefore be fired,'” said another of Thomas’ former college students, who works as a lawyer for a government agency and spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to be associated with the controversy at his alma mater. He disagrees with many of Thomas’ past judgments, but thinks “the school is absolutely right”.

Kay, the undergraduate who organized the petition, said student groups will continue to push the university.

“Right now, it’s just about keeping the noise up, continuing to deliver a consistent message, and making sure the university knows their statement didn’t just end the conversation,” he said. said Kay, 20. “I was so outraged that our school continued to employ Judge Thomas, not only after his vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, but also his implied intention to overturn Obergefell, Lawrence and Griswold.

In a concurring opinion published after the court struck down Roe v. Wade – who had legalized abortion nationwide – Thomas wrote that the court should reconsider other cases based on the same legal reasoning. These cases include Obergefell v. Hodges, who established the right of same-sex couples to marry; Lawrence v. Texas, a case that struck down sodomy laws and legalized same-sex sexual activity nationwide; and Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 decision that established the right for married couples to purchase and use contraception.

“It is simply unacceptable for our university to continue its employment,” Kay said of Thomas. “By employing him, we endorse his actions.”

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