When Judge John Charles Thomas is on campus, word gets around quickly. And students show up in droves to hear what he has to say.
Most recently, on November 16, Thomas was invited by the American Constitution Society (ACS) and myriad student groups to return to William & Mary Law School to give a lecture on “The Gavel Gap,” which addressed racial disparity of judges on state and federal benches.
"When the idea for an event discussing racial disparity on state and federal benches emerged, Judge John Charles Thomas immediately came to mind as the ideal speaker,” said Kevin Connell, President of the ACS. “Judge Thomas’ wealth of knowledge, inspirational journey and revered skill as an orator has solidified his legendary status in the hearts and minds of our William & Mary community.”
Not only did Thomas discuss the issue broadly, but he offered his own personal experiences to illustrate the significance of the issue.
“I’m here to say that when you sit at the table with people who’ve seen things differently…when you put those voices together, it can be astounding how much more clearly we can see a problem,” Thomas said. “And I hope that you see what it’s like to have thoughtful people who are working on a problem with you that’s very complex, but they have another viewpoint, and you say, ‘I had never thought of that.’”
Thomas was the first African-American and the youngest person (at age 32) to be appointed to serve on the Supreme Court of Virginia. He is a Senior Partner in the Richmond office of Hunton & Williams LLP, and is a member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, where he judges violations of the World Anti-Doping Code. In 1995, Thomas was awarded the NAACP Lifetime Image Award.
A graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, Thomas was named an Honorary Alumnus of William & Mary Law School in 2016. He was appointed to the William & Mary Board of Visitors in 2006 to fill an unexpired term and reappointed to two four-year terms in 2009 and 2013, making him the longest-serving Board member in modern history. He stepped down from the Board last summer after nearly 12 years of service.
Well known for his inspiring oratory (and poetry), Thomas has long been a friend of the Law School, welcoming new classes each year and saying farewell to graduates at commencement. Most recently he kicked off William & Mary’s school year during Convocation exercises.
Judge Thomas’ lecture was sponsored by the Black Law Students Association (BLSA), Latino Law Student Association (LLSA), Multicultural Law Students Association (MLSA), Asian Law Student Association (ALSA), Women’s Law Society (WLS), the Institute of Bill of Rights Law: Student Division (IBRL), George Wythe Society, and Speak Up-Speak Loud.
“The American Constitution Society and its event co-sponsors are thankful for the efforts of Law School administration, faculty, staff and students to support this event,” Connell said. “Most of all, we are grateful for the continued generosity of Judge Thomas to the William & Mary family that inspires us all to be better."
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.