Law students at George Washington University have been notified that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas will not be teaching a seminar this year. Thomas came under fire from some of the student population after the Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health was handed down. A petition was launched on June 26, two days after the Supreme Court’s ruling was announced. The discontented students demanded that Thomas no longer teach his annual seminar.
When the Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs came down, Thomas wrote a concurring opinion in the case. He called for a reconsideration of opinions protecting same-sex relationships, interracial marriage, and access to contraceptives. His opinion, which was not in the opinion of Justice Alito, alarmed abortion supporters who expect the conservative-leaning majority to further restrict personal freedoms.
The hullabaloo over Thomas teaching a seminar titled “Leading Cases in Context,” which he has taught since 2011 seems to have taken its intended toll. Thomas’ co-instructor Gregory Maggs sent an email to registered students notifying them that Thomas will not teach the seminar. More than 11,000 students and “community members” signed the petition for his removal. The university newspaper ran the story of Thomas’ withdrawal.
Gregory Maggs, who has co-taught the course with Thomas since 2011, stated in an email addressed to the class that Thomas is “unavailable” to co-teach the course in the fall, and Thomas is no longer listed as a lecturer on GW Law’s course list. Thomas’ withdrawal from the course comes a month after more than 11,000 community members signed a petition demanding his removal from GW, but officials declined to remove him from his role after he voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“Unfortunately, I am writing with some sad news: Justice Thomas has informed me that he is unavailable to co-teach the seminar this fall,” Maggs said in an email obtained by The Hatchet. “I know that this is disappointing. I am very sorry.”
Thomas did not immediately return a request for comment. Maggs deferred multiple requests for comment to GW’s communications office.
“The seminar has not been canceled but I will now be the sole instructor,” Maggs said in the email. “For those of you still interested in taking the course, I assure you that we will make the best of the new situation.”
The university is not saying whether or not this is a one-time thing or if Thomas will be back in future semesters to teach the seminar. There has been no confirmation that the decision was due to the petition and pressure exerted by the students.
University spokesperson Tim Pierce said Thomas notified GW Law that he was “unavailable” to co-teach the seminar this fall.
“The students were promptly informed of Justice Thomas’ decision by his co-instructor who will continue to offer the seminar this fall,” Pierce said in an email.
Pierce declined to say if Thomas’ withdrawal is permanent or if the University expects Thomas to return to teaching in future semesters. Pierce also declined to say whether Thomas’ unavailability is related to the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the subsequent student protests against justice.
To its credit, George Washington University stood by Clarence Thomas and refused to bend to the demands of the angry mob. The university kept Thomas on its law school faculty roster. At the time, the university publicly defended Thomas.
“Because we steadfastly support the robust exchange of ideas and deliberation, and because debate is an essential part of our university’s academic and educational mission to train future leaders who are prepared to address the world’s most urgent problems, the university will neither terminate Justice Thomas’ employment nor cancel his class in response to his legal opinions,” leaders wrote Tuesday.
Ah, yes, the robust exchange of ideas. How refreshing. The purpose of the college experience is supposed to at least partly be to teach students to learn to listen and weigh both sides of an argument. Critical thinking is a necessary skill, especially in fields like law, right? How is a student expected to learn to argue a point if they never hear anything that goes against their personal beliefs? Hearing opposing views also expands the ability to figure out what their opinions are on subjects.
Imagine having the privilege of being taught by a Supreme Court justice in law school. By trying to run Thomas off campus, they are denying themselves a unique experience and access to an abundance of knowledge. Do abortion-supporting students only appreciate the success of liberals rising from humble beginnings and not conservatives? Thomas comes from very humble beginnings. He raised himself up from growing up in a shack with dirt floors and no electricity. He persevered and rose to the top of his career field. That should be celebrated. Instead, some spoiled brats accustomed to getting their way in conflicts have contributed to a loss of opportunity for other students.
Did the student protests contribute to Thomas’ decision? It isn’t being officially confirmed but it very likely did. The purpose of cancel culture is to intimidate its victim. I’m not saying that Thomas was intimidated by them, quite the contrary, but it is reasonable to think that in the time in which we live, he simply doesn’t want the hassle. He’s 74 years old. He’s been on the highest court in the land for decades. There are a lot of crazy people, some of whom threaten high profile people. Justice Kavanaugh and his family know that firsthand. Recent events have to have weighed on Clarence Thomas. Add to that the fact that his wife, Ginni, is being dragged into the January 6 commission’s investigation.
It’s too bad that things have escalated to this point. The biggest losers are the law students who will not be taught by Clarence Thomas. Let’s hope that in the future he will decide to go back to the campus and teach future lawyers.