Honor Thomas invitation Black lawyers: Hearing what Supreme Court justice has to say won't hurt National Bar Association.

June 24, 1998

IN THE remaining weeks before its annual convention, the National Bar Association ought to reconsider its decision to rescind Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' invitation to speak. It would be a travesty if an organization created because black lawyers had no voice in what was at one time the all-white American Bar Association denied the nation's premier African-American jurist an opportunity to speak.

Mr. Thomas has said he will give a July 29 speech despite the bar association's vote to withdraw its earlier invitation. The NBA ought to avoid an embarrassing moment by making it clear that it wants to hear Mr. Thomas, even if it doesn't agree with what he has to say.

As a Supreme Court justice, Mr. Thomas holds a historic position deserving of respect. It is a shame that his legal opinions opposing affirmative action do not follow in the tradition of the first black justice, Thurgood Marshall, a crusader for civil rights. But denying Mr. Thomas an NBA audience isn't going to change the way he thinks.

In fact, it would be good for Mr. Thomas to participate in a forum with peers who have similarly overcome obstacles of racism. Critics in the NBA have labeled Mr. Thomas a Judas. They should want to hear how he defends his court decisions. They should want an opportunity to speak with him.

Last year, protests by the Maryland NAACP led Mr. Thomas to cancel an appearance at a rally. But NAACP national President Kweisi Mfume said that the protests had been energy misspent and that the nation's oldest civil rights organization shouldn't be afraid to hear what 100 Clarence Thomases have to say. So it should be with the National Bar Association.

Let Mr. Thomas speak. In being heard, he also must listen.

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