Originally created 05/17/03

UGA awaits speech by high court justice



ATHENS, Ga. - A shower of local and national media attention will accompany U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas today at his 10 a.m. commencement address at the University of Georgia School of Law.

David Shipley, the dean of the law school, announced four months ago that Justice Thomas, a native Georgian, would give the 2003 commencement address. Shortly after that announcement, Mr. Shipley and the three students who chose Justice Thomas were criticized by UGA law professor Eugene Wilkes and others for choosing a speaker that Mr. Wilkes said has a "lamentable record on individual rights issues."

Late last month, a petition signed by 11 faculty members and 50 students emerged. The petition took issue with the "process and result" of Justice Thomas' selection, calling it "under-inclusive, clandestine and divisive."

Justice Thomas was first chosen by a group of law students comprised of the third-year president and vice president and the second-year vice president. The three students then forwarded their choice to Mr. Shipley for approval.

Even though a few groups, including the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, have expressed interest in protesting during Justice Thomas' speech today, Mr. Wilkes was the only person, as of Thursday afternoon, to have obtained a permit to protest on the UGA campus. Mr. Wilkes will deliver his own speech at 10 a.m. today at the Tate Center Plaza to discuss Justice Thomas' judicial record.

Heidi Murphy, the director of communications for the law school, said there would be "definitely more" news coverage of Justice Thomas' speech than of last year's address by Deputy U.S. Attorney Larry Thompson.

"We'll have more media attention than we've had in a long time," she said.

According to Ms. Murphy, television news outlets with plans to cover today's commencement include NBC Nightly News, the Fox News cable network, Atlanta's Fox network affiliate, Atlanta's CBS affiliate and C-SPAN, the cable public affairs network.

Print news sources scheduled to cover the event include Knight Ridder, the Associated Press, The Washington Post, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Athens Banner-Herald.