Lecture planned for March 8; Supreme Court bounce workshop indefinitely postponed.
As we’ve previously reported round these parts, Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is giving the university’s Hugo L. Black Lecture on Freedom of Expression, which will take place at 8:00 pm in the Memorial Chapel on Thursday, March 8. The event promises to be one of the most anticipated lectures of the academic year (I suppose you could cast your memory back to Elie Wiesel’s impassioned 2010 lecture for a rough comparison), but it has also prompted some healthy speculation as to how Scalia’s noted conservatism will mesh with our dear little college. One alumnus commenter likened the event to “Daniel appearing at a lion’s convention”; President Roth was a bit more measured in his commentary:
“I think it’s really important for Wesleyan to bring speakers to campus who don’t just preach to the choir, who don’t necessarily fit into what people think Wesleyan students think,” Roth said. “Bringing a Supreme Court justice to campus is a good thing because the justices are in positions to see the world and act on their perspectives in ways that are crucial to the country, whether we agree with them or not.”
It’ll be an interesting Q&A, for sure—for those who can actually make it. Tickets are going on “sale” (they’re free) tomorrow at 10:00 am at the Usdan Box Office, but good luck on the mission: there are 500 seats in Chapel, of which only 175 are reserved for students. Set an alarm for this one, and set it earlier than 9:55. (As the Argus reported this week, “The lecture will also be broadcast live in the Goldsmith Family Cinema, the Center for the Arts [CFA] Hall, and in the Public Affairs Center [PAC] rooms 001 and 002. Tickets for the 200 student seats in the Goldsmith Cinema will be available at the box office on Thursday.”)
To my knowledge, Scalia is the only Supreme Court Justice of any political persuasion to appear on campus in at least 15 years or so. The late Justice Harry A. Blackmun, who famously authored Roe v. Wade, spoke in Crowell Concert Hall in early 1993, just a week into the Clinton administration and a year before Blackmun’s retirement from the court. Blackmun, then 84, firmly defended the landmark 1973 decision (“I will carry [Roe v. Wade] to my grave,” he said), read some hate mail aloud (“you are a low-down scum”), and expressed optimism for abortion rights during Clinton’s term. (Thanks to guest commenter for the tip on this one.)
Clarence Thomas has almost certainly never spoken on campus, though a 1991 Argus could easily throw you off if you just skim the headline. According to a less-than-hilarious joke article (which appeared in a mostly satirical “Current Argus” edition in November, 1991), recently confirmed justice Clarence Thomas was on his way to Wesleyan in a professorial position. Unfortunately, the article’s humor kinda blows its load in the first paragraph:
For a bit of historical perspective, Thomas was nominated for the Court on July 1, 1991 and confirmed, finally, on October 15. Somewhere in between, Anita Hill took to the stand, capturing the nation’s—and apparently Wesleyan’s—attention throughout the confirmation hearings. It’s not exactly a lesson in sharp humor writing, but it is a lesson in how pervasive the Thomas/Hill debate was in late 1991. To my knowledge, Thomas never actually joined Wesleyan’s history department.
As far as conservative political figures actually appearing on campus, I came across this 1952 Argus article (continued here) about a Downey House speech by then GOP Senatorial candidate Prescott Bush. The Connecticut Republican apparently had less than savory words for current Democratic leadership, accusing Truman of “sinking to the lowest levels of political smear.” Oh, and this excellent comeback:
Mr. Bush also made a reference to the ‘mess’ in Washington. He cited an exchange of feelings with Congresssman Ribicoff on the topic this past weekend. Replying to the Congressman’s charge that the GOP candidate was campaigning for office on ‘General Eisenhower’s coat-tails’, Mr. Bush said: ‘I’m proud to run on the same ticket with General Eisenhower. However, if I were a Democrat, I’d run as far from your candidate’s dirty coat-tails as I possibly could.’
Bush won election the following month and represented Connecticut for just over ten years. He never lived to see his son George Herbert Walker become the 41st president. No one at Wesleyan seemed particularly perturbed by his conservatism when he spoke on campus because, well, it was 1952. Go figure.