The Clarence Thomas visit

Word is finally out that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas visited the USD campus on Thursday. It was a “by invitation only” appearance that was kept secret for security reasons.

My oldest daughter was among those invited to meet with Thomas. I speculate that is because her honors paper last semester was on the religion clauses of the First Amendment and involved Thomas’s concurring opinion in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow. While I am proud of and quite happy for her, I find one aspect of the visit disconcerting.

Although the invited students have known Thomas was coming for some time, they were pledged to secrecy. As far as I know, neither the media nor the general public were aware of the visit until after it occurred. What does it say for the U.S. when our Supreme Court justices make appearances at public universities in secret? In particular, what are the ramifications in a state facing the J.A.I.L. measure when one of the top judges in the nation visits in secret? While I realize there are security issues, they certainly can be dealt with. To keep the lid on everything until after Thomas came and went not only seems antithetical to the concept of openness in a free society, it speaks poorly for the judiciary.

I am pleased a sitting Supreme Court justice came to the state. I am, however, dismayed by the secrecy and the fact a public university would agree to keep such an occasion under wraps and require its students to do the same.

Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.

Lord John Dalberg-Acton

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