To: Molly Pitcher
To: Cincinatus' Wife
Though writing on sidewalks along Baldwin Street near the University of Georgia School of Law invited passersby to picket the commencement address given by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Saturday, only a handful of people bothered.
The chalk-drawn messages encouraged people to join protesters outside Stegeman Coliseum, where several University of Michigan students stood with protest signs throughout the morning ceremony.
Inside the coliseum, Thomas, who is known for his conservative decisions and stance against affirmative action, gave the commencement address to the Class of 2003.
At the Tate Student Center, two dozen people listened as UGA law professor Eugene Wilkes delivered a 45-minute address of his own - railing against Thomas' controversial confirmation to the court, his decisions on abortion and defendants' rights issues and his vote against a recount in the Florida presidential election.
In a speech peppered with criticism of Thomas' ''right-wing supporters,'' Wilkes called the Georgia-born justice ''quite justly, the most detested judge in America'' and ''an embarrassment to Georgia.''
Wilkes compared the devotion of Thomas' supporters to fundamentalist Christians' belief that the Bible is infallible. ''The lunatic fringe of the right wing is slavishly devoted to Justice Thomas,'' he said.
Thomas' decisions consistently restrict American liberties, the professor said.
''He is part of - even the embodiment of - a scheme to pack the court with enemies of freedom,'' Wilkes said.
The small crowd applauded at times and laughed at others. As the speech ended most cheered, while an older man sitting on a nearby bench booed.
Spectators didn't admit opinions as strong as Wilkes', though.
''I've got a lot of respect for professor Wilkes,'' said Eamon Walsh, a graduate student in political science. ''In general, Americans are too complacent and don't exercise their right to express their views.''
Walsh said he agreed with much of what Wilkes said, but that he intended on hearing Thomas' commencement speech and only wandered down to the protest after he realized he'd arrive too late to hear Thomas.
The Michigan students outside the graduation ceremony at Stegeman Coliseum traveled to Georgia to represent two groups: the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary.
Cyril Cordor, an organizer of the protest, said that because Thomas has ''been known to be a conservative justice'' who has not ruled in favor of affirmative action, he hoped that this demonstration, among others, might sway Thomas to rule in favor of it in the future.
Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, May 18, 2003.
posted on 05/19/2003 4:54:34 AM PDT
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