Justice Thomas to open lecture series Sept. 16

Published on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 22:33 - Written by EMILY GUEVARA eguevara@tylerpaper.com

The University of Texas at Tyler’s Distinguished Lecture Series will feature its first Supreme Court Justice this year.

Justice Clarence Thomas is scheduled to be the first speaker for the 2014-15 lecture series, according to a university news release.

UT Tyler President Dr. Rod Mabry said the university has had more than 80 speakers in the 33 years of this lecture series including prime ministers, presidents and Nobel Prize winners.

“But to have a sitting Supreme Court Justice is just a wonderful thing for East Texas to see and hear about and see … how this man thinks,” he said.

Thomas is scheduled to speak at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16 at the university’s R. Don Cowan Fine and Performing Arts Center. The lecture is sponsored by Drs. Lawrence L. Anderson and Svetislava J. Vukelja along with Mabry, his wife, Merle, and UT Tyler. 

Nominated by former President George H.W. Bush, Thomas, 66, took his seat on the court in 1991.

He is known as the most conservative member on the court and is its only African-American. He seldom speaks during oral arguments.

However, it is his speech that inspired Mabry to seek him out as a guest for the university’s lecture series.

“I heard him speak in Tulsa some years ago and he was the best speaker I had heard to that point in time,” Mabry said. “He is a magnificent articulate person and so I wanted to get him here. I knew he would really speak well.”

Mabry said he’s been working for “quite some time” to get Thomas and had help from UT System regents in contacting him. About three months ago the visit was finalized.

“Since he’s a sitting Supreme Court Justice, what he thinks matters,” Mabry said. “And he is probably, at least in my view, the staunchest defender of America’s constitutional form of government.”

Those who believe that the foundation of a rule of law is important will want to hear what he has to say, Mabry said.

“You don’t have to agree with all his views, but he really is a strong advocate for having a framework that allows us to maneuver and have disputes and get them resolved,” he said.

Born in rural Georgia near Savannah, Thomas grew up in poverty. At age 7, he and his younger brother moved to live with their grandfather and step grandmother.

He attended Conception Seminary, but ultimately received his bachelor’s degree from Holy Cross College and graduated from Yale Law School in 1974.

He was admitted to practice law in Missouri that same year and served as that state’s assistant attorney general from 1974-77. He worked as an attorney for the Monsanto Co. from 1977-79 and as a legislative assistant to Sen. John Danforth from 1979-81, according to the news release.

From 1981-82, he served as assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education, following that with eight years as chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In 1990, he became a U.S. Court of Appeals judge for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Mabry said he doesn’t know specifically what Thomas will talk about during his lecture, but expects he will address constitutional issues and possibly some past Supreme Court cases. Mabry said he would like to have a question-and-answer session with Thomas as well.

He said he hopes attendees see how strong an intellect all of the Supreme Court justices have through Thomas’ visit.

“He will be an example of that,” Mabry said. “He has a powerful mind and (I think) that will be on display.”

For more information about the event or to purchase tickets, call 903-566-7424 or visit cowancenter.org. Box-office hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.