A group of students at George Washington University wants U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas banned from teaching at the law school following Friday’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 6,000 had signed the petition within the first two days of it being posted on Change.org.
The petition states: “With the recent Supreme Court decision that has stripped the right to bodily autonomy of people with wombs, and with his explicit intention to further strip the rights of queer people and remove the ability for people to practice safe sex without fear of pregnancy, it is evident that the employment of Clarence Thomas at George Washington University is completely unacceptable.”
“While also factoring in his wife’s part in the attempted coup in January of 2021, Judge Thomas is actively making life unsafe for thousands of students on our campus (not to mention thousands of campuses across the country),” the petition, started by Jon Kay, a rising junior majoring in international affairs and philosophy at GWU, states.
Thomas, who is a professorial lecturer in law at GW Law and has taught at the school since 2011, joined the conservative 5-4 majority opinion in Friday’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
An email to the GW community from Christopher Alan Bracey, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and professor of law, and Dayna Bowen Matthew, dean and and Harold H. Greene professor of law, was provided to Law.com late Tuesday afternoon.
It addresses requests “from some members of the university and external communities that the university terminate its employment of Adjunct Professor and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and cancel the Constitutional Law Seminar that he teaches at the Law School.”
“Justice Thomas has been a consistent critic of the Court’s legal philosophy on substantive due process for many years,” the email states. “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.”
While Thomas’ views do not represent the views of GW University nor its law school, “like all faculty members at our university, Justice Thomas has academic freedom and freedom of expression and inquiry,” the email states, adding that “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.”
On Tuesday, Kay posted an update to the petition about “next steps,” urging people to sign the petition and to send an email to GWU Dean Dayna Bowen Matthew, with a template provided, urging her to “terminate Professorial Lecturer and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas from GW Law School” because he is “enemy of the human rights and freedoms we have as Americans.”
The email template closes by saying that Thomas grossly misrepresents GWU’s values.
Matthew said in an email to the GW Law community that the law school would be hosting discussions in the coming weeks regarding the reversal of Roe, as well as rulings in two other cases that involved gun rights and religious freedom, according to an article in The GW Hatchet posted Monday evening.
“This is a time when GW Law may distinguish ourselves among all other law school communities by the way that we approach having difficult conversations and act constructively to preserve the rule of law and our democracy,” Matthew said in the email, according to the article.
Several of those who signed the petition listed reasons for doing so.
“Because this isn’t right. We are not moving backwards!” read one comment.
“Justice Thomas can’t be trusted to be an unbiased and objective professor if he believes his female and queer students should have fewer rights than his straight, male students,” said another.
But the petition has also attracted its share of on-campus critics.
A press release sent on behalf of John F. Banzhaf III, professor emeritus of public interest law at GW Law, said the petition represents the “ultimate cancel culture demand.”
“These sound like the same students who signed a petition asking their GW university to ban the stick figure used on lighted crosswalk signs on campus because they feel ‘oppressed’ because the figure appears to be that of a white man telling them what to do,” the release said.
Banzhaf’s release also quoted the GW College Republicans as stating: “One of the principal assets of our school is learning from figures across the ideological spectrum. [T]he free exchange of ideas and opinions should be valued—not discouraged—at an institution of higher learning like ours.”
According to Banzhaf’s release, “while there have been many other situations in which students have demanded that a professor be relieved of all his teaching duties because some disagreed with his views, this may well be the first time that students want to stop a Supreme Court justice from agreeing to teach at a law school.”
Similarly, Jonathan Turley, Shapiro Chair for Public Interest Law at GW Law, wrote on Twitter that the petition is “a continuation of the enforced orthodoxy now all too common on our campuses where Thomas has long been a source of personal and offensive attacks.”