Thomas at Yale

By Shapiro, Andrew L. | The Nation, November 2, 1992 | Go to article overview

Thomas at Yale


Shapiro, Andrew L., The Nation


When Clarence Thomas was questioned by the Senate a year ago about his. views on Roe v. Wade be he made, a point of mentioning that during his first semester at Yale Law School he took a course in constitutional law taught by Thomas Emerson, the late civil liberties pioneer [see "Emerson, Thomas," July 29/August 5, 1991]. He failed to tell the senators that during the next semester, the spring of 1972, he elected to take another course with Emerson, called Political and Civil Rights, or P.C.R.

Reproductive rights and abortion were essential parts of the course that year, according to EmersOn's own lecture notes and the notes of another student in the course. "The Supreme Court was in the midst of decideing Row v. Wade, and just eight years earlier, in Griswold v. Connecticut, it was Emerson who had convinced the Court to legalize birth control,and define the right to privacy that would lay the groundwork for Roe.

It might be just a footnote that Thomas understated his academic exposure to the abortion debate--yet another instance of the misrepresentation in Thomas's testimony even before Anita Hill took the floor. Far more intriguing is the fact that Tom Emerson's lessons cast a serendipitous light on the election of 1992. More than in any recent election, the political and legal issues he championed--reproductive rights and political power for women, sexual privacy, the freedom to dissent in wartime, separation of church and state, even the third-party option (Emerson supported Henry Wallace's Progressive Party effort in 1948)--resonate throughout this presidential campaign.

What's more, in a curious historical coincidence, this campaign, which has reverberated with so many of Tom Emerson's lifelong concerns, has also placed other students from his P. …

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