Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas Takes On “Race” Card In University of NC Admissions Policies

By Ken on
 November 1, 2022
By Ken on

On Monday, saying that he doesn't give much weight to the idea that diversity, automatically creates better outcomes. Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas dismissed an argument from a lawyer defending race-based affirmative action policies, in college admissions.

Thomas asked state Solicitor General Ryan Park to describe the educational benefit to including race as a factor in college admissions, during arguments involving admissions policies at the University of North Carolina (UNC). Reportedly, Park responded that in studies involving stock trading results-

"racially diverse groups of people … perform at a higher level." adding "The mechanism there is that it reduces groupthink and that people have longer and more sustained disagreement, and that leads to a more efficient outcome,"

-Ryan Park, State Solicitor General

Thomas responded-

 "I guess I don't put much stock in that because I've heard similar arguments in favor of segregation, too."

-Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas

Sparring with lawyers, who were defending affirmative action in college admissions, Justice Clarence Thomas on Monday, said some of their arguments reminded him of how people in past decades defended racial discrimination. Thomas also stated -

"I've heard the word diversity quite a few times, and I don't have a clue what it means. It seems to mean everything for everyone,"

-Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas

Thomas, normally the most reserved justice, actively participated in Monday's oral arguments in Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. University of North Carolina. This case with the University of North Carolina, is the center of a major Supreme Court case, that could result in affirmative action being banned in the college admissions process.

In later discussions with David Hinojosa, Director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, seemingly, Thomas rejected the idea that affirmative action policies should continue, simply because a school asserts there is a compelling interest in doing so. He stated-

"I cannot think of another area of another case where the court deferred to the alleged discriminator on something as important as compelling interest,"

-Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas

Hinojosa, however, disagreed and said that much of the case has involved "strict scrutiny" on whether there is a different way to achieve student body diversity, without considering race. He also maintained that "the limited consideration of race in a holistic fashion" is not "discrimination, per se."

Yet, Thomas was unconvinced, saying that the court would not be so accepting, of a contrary assertion by a college. He questioned-

"If this was … this case involved a school district in Virginia in 1960 that is alleged to be discriminating, would this court defer to its assertion that the races do better if they're segregated?" Thomas asked

-Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas

To this comment Hinojosa countered-

"That's not this case. This case is about a limited classification involving a compelling interest."

-David Hinojosa, Director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Likewise, Thomas responded-

"That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the court's deference. In that case, the court would put Virginia to the test. In this case, it does not. I am asking you why the difference?"

-Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas

The Supreme Court is hearing both a case against UNC, followed by a similar case against Harvard, brought by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), who is suing these universities over their policies of including race as a factor in admissions decisions.

SFFA claims it is a-

"coalition of prospective applicants and applicants to higher education institutions who were denied admission to higher education institutions, their parents, and other individuals who support the organization’s purpose and mission of eliminating racial discrimination in higher education admissions. SFFA has members throughout the country."

-Students for Fair Admissions

In its’ initial filing against UNC, the SFFA said that its membership includes at least one White student, who was denied admission to the university. Set to be argued later Monday, The Harvard case focuses more on how Harvard's policies allegedly harm Asian-American applicants.

Citing multiple past Supreme Court precedents, those who support the use of affirmative action in college admissions say it is permissible. Saying also that, it is important to ensure diversity at universities, affirmative action supporters contend that, it serves as a pipeline to key leadership positions in society.

No stranger to the subject of race, Justice Thomas clearly has insights from a broader perspective on this issue. That he is openly debating this case, is indicative of his interest in keeping the focus on equal access for all students, and not disqualifying some, because they might belong to a higher representative group at the institution.

“If we stay focused on data and the real issues, we can tailor our inventions to enhance public health and safety, while decreasing the likelihood of racial discrimination.”

-Carl Hart
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