Invitation doesn't sit well with all

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has agreed to attend the dedication of Augusta's new Judicial Center and Judge John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse in the spring, according to a local judge, but not everyone is happy about it.

J. Carlisle Overstreet, the Superior Court chief judge for the Augusta Judicial Circuit, said that he has been in contact with Thomas' staffers and that they have accepted. Overstreet said he first conferred with City Administrator Fred Russell, who then spoke to Mayor Deke Copenhaver about the invitation.

Overstreet said the city "hit pay dirt" with Thomas' acceptance.

Some blacks disagree with Overstreet, however; they oppose the choice of Thomas and question why it was made with little input from others.

"I feel Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' judicial philosophy contradicts Judge Ruffin's judicial philosophy and works," said Quincy Murphy, the chairman of the Richmond County legislative delegation. "And I would have hoped that some consideration would have been given to the person they named the courthouse after -- Georgia Appeals Court Chief Judge John H. 'Jack' Ruffin."

Retired educator Tracy Williams said Thomas is a hypocrite because he benefited from the very things he opposes -- affirmative action, the public-accommodations law of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill and the integration of public schools.

One of Ruffin's close friends, Mallory Millender, said he knows of no one whom Ruffin held in greater contempt than Thomas.

"I know of no way we could dishonor John Ruffin more than to have Clarence Thomas speak for this occasion," he said.

Russell said it is fairly common to ask the Supreme Court justice who is from the district to attend dedications of judicial facilities.

"He seemed like a logical choice," he said. "He's the Supreme Court justice. That's pretty classy. I didn't realize that would be a problem."

The mayor said that he had written a letter of support for his invitation at the request of U.S. District Court Judge Dudley Bowen, because it was protocol for the Supreme Court justice from a district to speak, but that he had not been part of the decision.

"I'm not a member of a committee," he said. "I'm not aware of a committee. I just sent a letter at the request of Judge Bowen."

Bowen, likewise, said he was not involved in the decision because that would be the role of state officials, such as Overstreet.

"I'm delighted Justice Thomas is coming, if he is," Bowen said.

Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason, who was contacted in Washington, said that if it was protocol he would support it, but not as keynote speaker.

"I wouldn't disrespect him because of his position," he said. "But I wouldn't think Clarence Thomas would be the best choice. I really wouldn't support him being the guest speaker."

Former Richmond County State Court Solicitor Harold Jones said Thomas is a fine choice.

"He is a Supreme Court justice. He's from Georgia. He pulled himself up with his own bootstraps," he said. "I think it's a great choice. I think he shows what a justice should be."

Williams said he had sent e-mails to 58 people seeking their opinions concerning the Thomas invitation and received 22 responses. Older respondents oppose it, and younger ones don't, he said.

No dedication has been set, but it is expected to be in May.

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