The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The GWU students were right about Clarence Thomas

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaks on Nov. 15, 2007, to the Federalist Society at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Kathleen Parker’s latest attempt to reinvent and bill Justice Clarence Thomas an American hero, “Clarence Thomas and the GWU cancel mob” [op-ed, July 31], conveniently skirted many key fundamental rights issues raised in the principled petition of thousands of George Washington University students under the banner of free speech.

Indeed, she should have also shouted that a student’s right to free speech and protest is another equally important First Amendment right. This includes the right to object to a professor’s employment because his or her past and future judicial rulings endanger many of their own freedoms. The students who were exercising their rights to petition are the real heroes — not Justice Thomas, who voluntarily backed down from his law school lectures because he could now see that they would only serve to make him appear less of a constitutional jurist and more of a crusading fundamentalist moralist with one eye on an 18th-century society and the other on the Bible. Justice Thomas knew, and Ms. Parker should know, that he had little choice but to back down from the ever-growing campus and public outcry.

The issues raised in Justice Thomas’s 1991 confirmation hearings are many of the same issues raised by the GWU students in their petition. A simple reading of the 1991 testimony opposing his confirmation explains why so many students are concerned.

Hopefully, the students’ petition might finally convince Ms. Parker that Justice Thomas is dangerous to even her own rights and that he is certainly no hero. All Americans should think about what they are going to do if they lose these hard-won American rights.

Keith Henderson, Washington

Kathleen Parker wrote that “America has much more to fear from the tyranny of the mob than it does from a Supreme Court justice talking about the U.S. Constitution to, hello, law students.” This tyranny of the “close-minded” certainly continues to threaten free speech and mutual respect in academia.

At the same time, mob rule is growing across the nation in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which imposed abortion on the nation. Pro-choice activists are assaulting, vandalizing and even fire-bombing churches, pregnancy centers and other pro-life offices across the country, including local parishes in Maryland and Virginia. The relative silence of the Biden administration further inflames the situation.

Unless we restore civility in our discourse, respect one another and seek what truly serves the common good, rejecting those dangerous and unfounded ideologies underlying the principal issues that divide us, the United States will face increasing lawlessness and the inevitable erosion of our cherished democratic freedoms.

Philip C. Wehle Jr., McLean