FROM THE BEACON
By Kate Stringer |
The town-hall style discussion, “A Conversation with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas,” free and open to the public, will be in the Chiles Center at 4 p.m.
Following the talk, Thomas will attend the annual Red Mass in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher at 5:30 p.m. The Red Mass, a Catholic tradition that prays for all professionals who work with the law and administering justice, will be celebrated by Portland Archbishop Alexander K. Sample.
Thomas’ visit was initiated through his friend Diarmuid O’Scannlain, a Portland judge on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. O’Scannlain is also a member of the advisory board for UP’s Garaventa Center, which is sponsoring the event.
Thomas is not the first Supreme Court Justice to visit The Bluff. Antonin Scalia’s visit in 2007 was also initiated through O’Scannlain.
Thomas, a 1972 graduate of The College of The Holy Cross, became acquainted with the UP community several years ago through his mentorship of UP junior Dakota Garza. After receiving the Horatio Alger Association scholarship, which recognizes students who’ve dealt with adversity, Garza met Thomas, also a member of the Association. Thomas became a mentor to Garza through the program, which facilitates supportive relationships between recipients and mentors.
“He’s a great mentor and he has a lot of good wisdom to share with people,” Garza said. “He’s such a personable kind of person, I feel like so many people can get along with him.”
Thomas is widely regarded as the most conservative judge on the bench. Recently, he ruled against gay marriage in the Defense of Marriage Act. He also ruled against section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.
“There are a lot of people who are concerned about him because of the decisions he’s made, his stances and his views, how he interprets the Constitution,” political science professor Gary Malecha said. “Many people would argue that he has an interpretation of the Constitution that doesn’t allow for progressive results.”
While Thomas’ decisions are typically conservative, not all have been so. Thomas dissented from the majority opinion in Gonzales v. Raich (2005), which held that Congress has the power under the Commerce Clause to criminalize the production and use of marijuana, even for medicinal purposes.
“At the end of the day he’s very much a federalist, and by that I mean he thinks that the expansion of federal government power since the New Deal shouldn’t be a part of our system. It is unconstitutional,” political science professor William Curtis said. “He’s going to support state legislation regardless of whether that state legislation is conservative or liberal.”
Thomas’ journey to the court was marked with adversity. He grew up in poverty in Savannah, Ga. and was active in the Civil Rights movement.
Garaventa Center Program Director Jamie Powell read Thomas’ memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son,” and found his life journey moving.
“It was a life that you and I have not experienced,” Powell said. “It was a very tough life growing up. It’s a very interesting route he’s taken. Whether you agree with him or not on the different cases, it’s fascinating to see what made the man.”
His nomination to the Supreme Court in 1991 was wrought with controversy when former colleague Anita Hill came forward with accusations he sexually harassed her when she worked for him during the early 1980s. While the charges were inconclusive, the Senate confirmed Thomas’ nomination with a 52-48 vote, the lowest in history. Thomas became the second African-American to be appointed to the Supreme Court.
Because Thomas is a public figure who rules on controversial issues, Powell will not be surprised if there are protests surrounding his arrival. Director of Public Safety Gerry Gregg doesn’t think the event will be highly controversial, but the Portland Police Bureau will be in charge of managing any protesters. U.S. Marshals will provide protection for Thomas.
Garaventa Center Co-Director Fr. Charles Gordon hopes people will take the opportunity to listen to someone different from themselves.
“The University of Portland community is an extraordinarily humane community. If a controversial figure like Clarence Thomas comes here, this is a community inclined to see him as a person, as another human being,” Gordon said. “With an encounter like that, it could help people break out of two-dimensional stereotypes of what someone’s like.”
Garza agrees, pointing out that media portrayals are different from personal encounters.
“I think you see these people in the news, but once you can be around them it’s such a different experience,” Garza said. “I wish that people had the opportunity to get to know him more and see that.”
The discussion in the Chiles Center will be a question and answer forum with questions from Malecha and Curtis as well as students. However, Thomas will not answer questions that could involve court cases or issues that might be presented to him because of presumptions that could be made on his rulings in future court cases.
“I’m excited to talk with a Supreme Court Justice regardless of who it is,” Curtis said. “To talk to somebody who bears that responsibility of that power and that exalted position is going to be very interesting, agree with him or not.”
To learn more about Clarence Thomas:
- Political science professor William Curtis will present on the constitutional jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas for Constitution Day
- Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. in St. Mary’s Lounge
Schedule of Events
“A Conversation with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas”
- Chiles Center Sept. 19 at 4 p.m.
- Free and open to the public
- General seating, no tickets
- Allow time for security, doors open no later than 3:30 p.m.
- Large bags or backpacks aren’t allowed
- His book “My Grandfather’s Son” will be sold for $15.95 per copy, not autographed
- Chapel of Christ the Teacher Sept. 19 at 5:30 p.m.
- Free and open to the public