Thousands of people have signed a petition asking George Washington University to end the employment of U.S. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas as an adjunct instructor of law based on his position in last week’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned the court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling legalizing abortion nationwide. Thomas not only sided with the majority in Dobbs but also issued an individual concurrence saying that he and his colleagues “should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous,’ we have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents.” This has sparked widespread concern about the court’s deference to legal precedent and, more specifically, the future of access to contraception and of equal rights for LGBTQ Americans.
“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,” reads the student-led petition, which also expresses concern about the efforts of Thomas’s wife, Virginia Thomas, to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. “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). Make your voice heard and help us kick Clarence Thomas out of Foggy Bottom.”
Thomas is scheduled to co-teach a constitutional law course at George Washington in the fall, as he has for many years.
Christopher Alan Bracey, provost, and Dayna Bowen Matthew, dean of law at George Washington, said in a statement, “Since the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, we have heard from members of our community who have expressed feelings of deep disagreement with this decision. We also have received 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.”
Many of the requests cite Thomas’s concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson, “in which he called the substantive due process doctrine a ‘legal fiction,’” the statement says. “Justice Thomas has been a consistent critic of the Court’s legal philosophy on substantive due process for many years. 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.”
Thomas’s views do not represent the views of either the George Washington University or its law school, the statement continues. “Additionally, like all faculty members at our university, Justice Thomas has academic freedom and freedom of expression and inquiry.”