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Clarence Thomas Achieves Desired Outcome in Affirmative Action Ruling


[Chief Justice John Roberts may have penned the majority opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court that terminated affirmative action on Thursday, but Justice Clarence Thomas may relish the moment the most. Thomas, one of only three Black Supreme Court justices in American history, stands as the court’s fiercest opponent of affirmative action policies. Despite his firsthand experience of benefiting from affirmative action, Thomas views these policies with the utmost disdain. In a separate concurring opinion concerning Harvard College and the University of North Carolina, Thomas declared triumph and expressed his belief that the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger precedent, which had upheld affirmative action, is now deceased – something Roberts did not explicitly state.

“The Court’s opinion rightly clarifies that Grutter is essentially overruled,” Thomas wrote. “And it recognizes that the universities’ admissions policies are, in essence, aimless, race-based preferences designed to ensure a specific racial mix in their incoming classes. These policies contradict our colorblind Constitution and our nation’s ideal of equality. In short, they are unquestionably – and boldly – unconstitutional.”

Thomas uses his concurrence to draw upon all of his past opinions, reveling in the demise of a policy of “racial discrimination” that he believes branded him with the mark of race since he left his hometown in Pin Point, Georgia.

After attending the College of the Holy Cross, Thomas made the decision to attend Yale Law School. The law school had recently implemented an affirmative action policy that established a quota of 10% of incoming classes to consist of people of color. Thomas was one of 12 Black students in his class.

He has since recounted his discomfort with the smiling faces of white liberals who told him that he was there because of their charity. This reminded him of a favorite song of his at the time, The Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” with the lyrics:

Smiling faces, smiling faces, sometimes
They don’t tell the truth
Smiling faces, smiling faces tell lies

“As much as it had hurt to be told that I had succeeded … despite my race, it was even worse to believe that I was now at Yale because of it,” Thomas wrote in his 2007 memoir.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has long been an opponent of affirmative action policies.

The white liberal, acting out of apparent charity towards the Black student, was essentially engaging in a twisted inversion of the old racism, Thomas later argued. He frequently equated the policies of racial segregation and affirmative action.

“I believe that there is a ‘moral [and] constitutional equivalence’ … between laws created to oppress a race and those that distribute benefits based on race in order to promote a current notion of equality,” Thomas wrote in a 1995 affirmative action opinion.

He echoed this belief in his concurrence supporting the plaintiffs, Students for Fair Admissions Inc., on Thursday: “Then, as now, the views that motivated Dred Scott and Plessy have not been confined to the past, and we must remain ever vigilant against all forms of racial discrimination.”

Thomas has consistently written and expressed his opinion that affirmative action was founded on the premise that Black people were “inferior” and in need of the help of white people. This essentially made white people the central characters in the affirmative action narrative, while causing the Black recipients – and society as a whole – to question their achievements, according to Thomas.

“[Blacks] owe all their achievements to the ‘anointed’ in society who supposedly changed their circumstances – not to their own efforts,” Thomas wrote in 1995 for The Weekly Standard.

This charity from the “anointed” not only creates doubt and confusion for Black recipients of affirmative action, but also undermines their accomplishments to themselves, their peers, and society at large. Whether a particular Black individual achieved success thanks to affirmative action or not is irrelevant.

“Who can distinguish between those who deserve it and those who don’t?” Thomas asked in his opinion in Grutter.

This casts doubt over the accomplishments of all successful Black individuals and brands them with the stigma of inferiority, Thomas reasoned.

“The problem of stigma does not depend on certainty as to whether those stigmatized actually benefit from racial discrimination,” Thomas continued in Grutter. “When Black individuals attain positions in the highest echelons of government, industry, or academia, it is still uncertain whether their skin color played a role in their advancement. The question itself is the stigma – because if racial discrimination did play a part, the person may be seen as ‘otherwise unqualified,’ and if it did not, asking the question itself unfairly stigmatizes those Blacks who would succeed without discrimination.”

“As much as it had hurt to be told that I had succeeded … despite my race, it was even worse to believe that I was now at Yale because of it.” – Clarence Thomas, 2007

All of this may sound familiar to liberals well-versed in critical race theory, such as in Ibram X. Kendi’s book “Stamped From the Beginning.” Thomas agrees with these ideas.

“For Thomas, the most significant form of racism is the stigma or label it places on Black people, designating them as less deserving or capable than white people. … What sets Thomas’s jurisprudence apart is that he acknowledges these liberal claims about the hidden and overt existence of race, while rejecting the conclusions that liberals believe should follow from them,” writes political theorist Corey Robin in his book “The Enigma of Clarence Thomas.”

Thomas rejects the implications that liberals believe should follow – integration, diversity goals, affirmative action, equity – because he argues that they only serve the interests of white people.

“[A]s universities define the ‘diversity’ they practice, it encompasses social and aesthetic goals far removed from the education-based interest discussed in Grutter,” Thomas wrote in his concurrence on Thursday.

His opinions on affirmative action often mention “aesthetics.” By this, Thomas means that the diverse composition of students at exclusive educational institutions only serves the interests of the rising white elite. If diversity means admitting more Black students to introduce diverse perspectives, then the individuals benefiting from these perspectives are non-BIPOC individuals who did not receive affirmative action. Therefore, the purpose of affirmative action for Black individuals is solely to provide white individuals with an aesthetic facade of racial diversity.

It also assists elite schools in maintaining their exclusivity. After all, Harvard is Harvard precisely because it admits so few people. Affirmative action provides a means to increase racial diversity while upholding exclusive admissions policies.

In this manner, affirmative action becomes a “solution to the self-inflicted wounds of [an] elitist admissions policy,” Thomas wrote in Grutter.

In his concurrence in Students for Fair Admissions, Thomas assembles these arguments and deploys them forcefully against the dissent written by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the nation’s third Black justice. In her dissent, Jackson not only outlines the history of unequal opportunities that necessitated affirmative action policies but argues that it is a matter of respecting one’s identity, in contrast to Thomas’ claim that affirmative action is inherently demeaning. “To demand that colleges disregard race in today’s admissions practices – and therefore ignore the fact that racial disparities may have influenced where some applicants find themselves today – not only undermines the dignity of those students for whom race matters, but also condemns our society to never move beyond the past that explains the relevance of race to the concept of ‘merit’ in admissions,” she writes.

“[Thomas’ opinion] reveals an obsession with race consciousness that far surpasses my or UNC’s comprehensive understanding that race can be a factor influencing applicants’ unique life experiences,” Jackson continued in a footnote, concluding: “[B]y insisting that we ignore obvious truths, [Thomas] prevents our problem-solving institutions from directly addressing the true significance and impact of ‘social racism’ and ‘government-imposed racism,’ thereby hindering our collective progress toward becoming a society where race no longer holds weight.”

Thomas, in turn, accuses Jackson of arguing that all outcomes are determined by race and the country’s history of racism. By envisioning this “black and white world (literally),” Thomas argues that Jackson would hand over policy to a self-appointed elite class to use race as the sole determinant…


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