Invited or uninvited, Thomas reportedly plans to speak to black lawyers group July 29 Justice is said to reject letter withdrawing offer


WASHINGTON -- The afternoon of July 29 in Memphis could prove an exquisitely interesting if awkward moment: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has told the National Bar Association that he intends to deliver a luncheon speech at its annual convention, even though he has received a subsequent letter from some members withdrawing the original invitation.

Senior members of the National Bar Association, the nation's largest group of black lawyers, have said that Thomas has told them he expects to give his speech that day and does not accept the legitimacy of the letter uninviting him.

The members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Thomas told them he was undeterred by a letter he received this month withdrawing the invitation because the people who wrote it were not those who first invited him.

The passions aroused by the invitation to Thomas, a conservative who has been an outspoken opponent of affirmative action, demonstrate the strong feelings that he still evokes among fellow blacks since his contentious confirmation hearings in 1991. His determination to appear suggests, his supporters in the association said, that he is ready to do battle with his opponents on the issue of whether he should be denied a platform for his views.

Thomas also told the members that he had received many requests from other members of the bar association urging him to keep his scheduled appearance and defy his opponents.

Thomas originally accepted an invitation to speak to the 17,000-member organization that was tendered early this year by Justice Bernette Johnson of the Louisiana Supreme Court. But the invitation provoked a strong reaction among the judicial group's 25 board members after they learned about it. Those members then voted overwhelmingly to withdraw the invitation and sent Thomas a letter June 4 doing so.

But the letter contained several messages and a mixed signal. While asserting that the executive council had withdrawn the invitation, the letter also noted that Johnson dissented and believed the invitation could not be withdrawn without her assent.

Neither Thomas nor Johnson would comment yesterday.

Pub Date: 6/17/98

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