Clarence Thomas canceled plans to teach class because of post-Roe violence, not student petition

Justice Clarence Thomas U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas | Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has canceled plans to teach his popular class at George Washington University’s Law School this fall amid threats of violence following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

A source close to Thomas told CNA the justice’s decision had nothing to do with a student-led petition calling for the Washington, D.C. school to sever its ties with Thomas.

Mark Paoletta, a Washington lawyer who served as assistant counsel to President George H.W. Bush and worked on Thomas’ confirmation process, said in the last year Thomas and other justices have received death threats.

“After such a tumultuous year at the court with an unprecedented assault by the Left on the court, including death threats on him and several other conservative Justices, I am glad he decided to take a break from teaching. He deserves it," Paoletta said.

The Hatchet, the university’s student-run newspaper, broke the story of Thomas’ decision not to teach the class. According to the report, Gregory Maggs, who has co-taught the class with Thomas since 2011, informed students in an email.

“Unfortunately, I am writing with some sad news: Justice Thomas has informed me that he is unavailable to co-teach the seminar this fall. I know that this is disappointing. I am very sorry,” he wrote. 

Maggs will continue teaching the class as the sole instructor for the fall semester.

Attacks on Thomas mount 

Shortly after the Supreme Court's June 24 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization was released, overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, abortion rights groups shared the addresses of conservative justices, encouraging people to protest in front of their homes. One California man was later charged with attempted murder outside Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home in Maryland.

Thomas has drawn particular scorn because of his concurring opinion suggesting the court should reconsider all “substantive due process” cases, including the 2015 Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage.  

Following his opinion, racial slurs like “Uncle Clarence” began trending on Twitter and obscene rants monopolized social media over the week, including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s profanity-laced statements at a “Chicago Pride” event.

Concerns for Thomas’ safety mounted with a viral video following the decision which revealed abortion activists handing out Thomas’ home address to protestors outside the court. This event coincided with several assassination threats on the justice’s life circulating on social media —  some of which were removed, some that were not. 

Petition not the reason

The student-led petition demanding Thomas be removed from the faculty cited “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.” 

The petition claimed Thomas was “actively making life unsafe for thousands of students on our campus” and was circulated outside campus, inflating the number of signatories. 

The university defended Thomas in a letter stating that it would “neither terminate Justice Thomas’ employment nor cancel his class,” citing its commitment to free ideas and debate. 

“Like all faculty members at our university, Justice Thomas has academic freedom and freedom of expression and inquiry,” school officials wrote.

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The petition was updated earlier this week, with organizers taking credit for removing the justice from faculty, despite the school’s refusal to do so.

But Paoletta told CNA that the justice’s decision to take a break had nothing to do with the petition. 

A popular course 

Paoletta, who is also the co-author of "Created Equal: Clarence Thomas In His Own Words" (Regency Publishing, 2022), said the course Thomas taught at GW is one of the law school’s most popular classes.

It focuses on seminal Supreme Court cases, which Thomas teaches in his trademark style — by cutting through the narratives developed around a specific case and going back to the facts, he said. Paoletta said the class has a long waiting list every year it is offered and that papers written by students in the class have gone on to be published in prominent law journals.

Thomas himself is beloved by his students, Paoletta said, proving that “people who sign these petitions know nothing about him and are fueled by their hatred.” He added that the criticism “has never affected him and never will affect him.”  

“The Left hates him because he is a principled black Supreme Court justice who dares to have his own thoughts and never bows to the Left mob mentality. Justice Thomas has been triggering the Left for 40 years and exposes their racism,” he said.

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A spokesperson for GW Law declined to comment Tuesday when asked if Thomas provided a specific reason for not teaching. The U.S. Supreme Court did not respond to a request for comment.

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