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The only Black Supreme Court Judge on the United States, Justice Clarence Thomas is once again involved in a skirmish with the African-American community. Justice Thomas had been invited, earlier this year, by the National Bar Association - the largest group of African-American lawyers in the United States - to speak at a July 29th banquet in Memphis, Tennessee. He accepted the invitation but this immediately led to confrontation with members of the association who are opposed to his presence at the event. The members are angry about Justice Thomas' opposition to affirmative action programs and said it would be an insult if he spoke to the group. The protest is led by former federal appeals court judge Leon Higginbotham, now a professor at Harvard University.

Justice Thomas has insisted that he would go ahead with the July speech. He argues that he should be allowed to exercise his right to free speech. Professor Higginbotham however countered that African Americans were uninterested in what he had to say. According to Higginbotham "Justice thomas can exercise his first amendment rights (to free speech) any place he wants to. The question is, do you invite him into your own home when he has articulated doctrines which repudiates your family?"

This is not the first time Justice Thomas has faced such acrimonious opposition from the African-American community. He has been repeatedly been shunned ever since his appointment to the supreme court in 1991. After overcoming allegations of sexual harassment during nationally-televised senate confirmation hearings, he became a target for civil rights activists angry at his stance on federally-mandated affirmative action programmes. Two years ago, his invitation to speak at a school ceremony in Maryland was rescinded and then restored. Last year, he cancelled a speaking engagement in Delaware after civil rights activists threatened to disrupt the event.

The decision to invite Justice Thomas to the National Bar Association event in Memphis was made by Justice Bernette Johnson. She is a member of the Louisiana State Supreme Court and chairs the Bar Association's committee which selects speakers. She says she disagrees with many of Clarence Thomas's views on civil rights, that is no reason to prevent him from speaking. She thought that there would be a better debate on the issue of affirmative action of his views were heard.

The issue is however threatening to split the association. A majority of its board recently sent Justice thomas a letter rescinding the invitation, but Justice Johnson believes only she can cancel the invitation and says she has no intention of doing so.

Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1991 by George Bush. He succeed the country's first african-american justice, Thurgood Marshall - a strong supporter of the civil rights movement who was instrumental in establishing affirmative action programmes.
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