US Supreme Court Justice quits teaching role after protests

Judicial leader of campaign to end abortion rights abandons constitutional law seminar at George Washington University

July 28, 2022

US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has cancelled plans to teach at George Washington University following campus protests fuelled by his role in overturning the nation’s half-century right to abortion.

Justice Thomas had jointly taught a constitutional law seminar at GW for the past decade. His co-instructor, Gregory Maggs, a professorial lecturer in law, told their students by email that Justice Thomas was “unavailable” this fall.

His decision followed student-led protests that include a petition with more than 11,000 signatures deriding the conservative justice for joining this summer’s majority vote to overturn the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v Wade, the case that established the right to abortion.

The protesters also cited Justice Thomas’s suggestions that he favours new restrictions in areas that include gay rights and access to contraception, as well as the potential conflicts of interest created by the actions of his wife, Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist who faces a possible subpoena to testify in front of the committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

One of the petitions put forth by GW students said they “find it quite difficult to imagine Professor Clarence Thomas wouldn’t be biased in the classroom if he is actively trying to strip individuals with uteruses of the right to medicine and queer individuals their right to legally exist.”

GW confirmed through a spokesperson that Justice Thomas had described himself as unavailable to teach the seminar this fall and that Mr Maggs – a former clerk for Justice Thomas active in conservative judicial circles – remained ready to run the class on his own. 

“For those of you still interested in taking the course, I assure you that we will make the best of the new situation,” Mr Maggs told students in his email, according to the student newspaper, The GW Hatchet.

The university had responded to the protests last month with an email from its provost, Christopher Bracey, and law school dean, Dayna Bowen Matthew, making clear their intention to let Justice Thomas teach the seminar.

“Just as we affirm our commitment to academic freedom,” they wrote, “we affirm the right of all members of our community to voice their opinions and contribute to the critical discussions that are foundational to our academic mission.”

Justice Thomas’s departure from GW comes shortly after a former Supreme Court justice, Stephen Breyer, was named a professor of administrative law and process at Harvard Law School, without any apparent protest. Earlier this year Justice Breyer announced his decision to abandon his lifetime position on the court, at age 83, under political pressure to resign so that his replacement could be named under Democratic control of the White House and Senate.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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