OMAHA, Neb. - It's not just anyone at any time who can say they have dined, talked, laughed and reminisced with a United States Supreme Court Justice.
However, Cherokee Washington High graduate Abby Struck can say that with pleasure and conviction after she and a chosen few Creighton University School of Law students were recently treated to a formal night out with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Justice Thomas has been visiting Creighton every other year for a few weeks in February to teach a Constitutional Law Class. His wife, Virginia Lamp, graduated from Creighton University School of Law and is an Omaha native. Her parents still live here.
Struck, a 2000 graduate of WHS, and a 2004 graduate of Luther College in Decorah with a double major in English and Spanish, is a first-year law student at Creighton. She was among 12 Creighton law students selected to dine with the Thomases. Also included in the party were two U.S. Marshals and three staff members from Creighton.
A Yale University Law School graduate, Thomas told the students how much he likes Creighton and how lucky the students were to have the quality professors they have at Creighton. He said you seldom find such honest and human law professors at other law schools.
He added that he is often invited by other law schools across the country to visit them, which he more often than not refuses. To this day, he refuses to visit Yale University Law School. Upon being named to the Supreme Court, the school requested his permission to put up a portrait of him at the school and he told them, "If you do it, it's without my permission!"
Because of his fondness for Creighton, Thomas also said he was interested in returning each year, rather than waiting two years like usual.
The dinner was at Gorat's Steakhouse, the Justice's favorite place to eat in Omaha. Thomas ordered fish. Go figure.
"I was surprised at how human he really is," noted Struck. "Sometimes you forget that Supreme Court Justices are human, too, and have the same feelings as the rest of us, which sometimes influences the choices and decisions they make."
Thomas went around the table asking each student where they were from and then he would throw in a little story about their home state, or some random connection to it. He made sure to form a personal connection with each student.
"He was very personal, has a great sense of humor, and his deep, rolling laugh is incredibly contagious," added Struck, the daughter of Paul Struck and Linda Struck of Cherokee. "It echoed off the walls throughout the restaurant and it was a common occurrence to hear that laugh echoing throughout the halls at Creighton.
"He talked a lot about football and the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and he being a Husker fan mainly because of his wife.
"He spoke about how he is a homebody and that he seldom attends many social functions in Washington. D.C. He prefers to be at home with his wife, which he constantly referred to as his best friend."
Thomas also readily talked about his weaknesses, telling the students about his great fear of wild animals, especially bears and snakes. One of the students was from Montana and Thomas asked, "Aren't there bears in Montana?"
He then made a horrified expression and talked at length about how scared he is of bears, and how, upon encountering one, you are supposed to roll up into the fetal position. He then added, "There is no way you would find me curling up into the fetal position if I encountered a bear. Instead, you would find me running for my life in the opposite direction!" his prodigious laugh again permeating the restaurant.
Near the end of the evening, Thomas made sure to have his photo taken individually with each student. He was very intrigued with the concept of digital cameras. After a photo was taken, he'd run over to the camera to get a look, and if it wasn't just right, he insisted on a do-over. One student had to stand there while 9-10 photos were taken because he didn't think they were good enough.
"Apparently, I'm just not very photogenic!" exclaimed the modest, humble Justice.
Thomas also confided his love of country music to the students, including naming his favorite singer, the legendary George Jones.
Ironically, Clarence Thomas's career as a Supreme Court Justice, as that of any Judge, is perhaps best summed up in the lyrics of one of George Jones's most popular songs: "Livin' and dyin' with the choices I've made."