OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.
Justice Clarence Thomas leveled some criticism at colleague Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson over what he described as her “racist worldview.”
In a long concurrence with the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling in June overturning race-based college admission standards, which Chief Justice John Roberts authored, Thomas agreed that admissions programs at Harvard University violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the University of North Carolina violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
“Eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it,” Roberts wrote in the ruling.
In her dissent, Jackson claimed that the ruling would actually make things “worse” for minorities because “race still matters to the lived experiences of all Americans in innumerable ways.”
With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces “colorblindness for all” by legal fiat. But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life. And having so detached itself from this country’s actual past and present experiences, the Court has now been lured into interfering with the crucial work that UNC and other institutions of higher learning are doing to solve America’s real-world problems. No one benefits from ignorance.
Although formal race-linked legal barriers are gone, race still matters to the lived experiences of all Americans in innumerable ways, and today’s ruling makes things worse, not better. The best that can be said of the majority’s perspective is that it proceeds (ostrich-like) from the hope that preventing consideration of race will end racism.
In his concurrence with the court’s majority, Thomas wrote: “Racialism simply cannot be undone by different or more racialism.”
“Instead, the solution announced in the second founding is incorporated in our Constitution: that we are all equal, and should be treated equally before the law without regard to our race,” he wrote. “Only that promise can allow us to look past our differing skin colors and identities and see each other for what we truly are: individuals with unique thoughts, perspectives, and goals, but with equal dignity and equal rights under the law.”
The senior justice then turned to his junior colleague’s unsubstantiated claim that the United States is a “fundamentally racist society.”
“Rather than focusing on individuals as individuals, her dissent focuses on the historical subjugation of black Americans, invoking statistical racial gaps to argue in favor of defining and categorizing individuals by their race,” he wrote. “As she sees things, we are all inexorably trapped in a fundamentally racist society, with the original sin of slavery and the historical subjugation of black Americans still determining our lives today.
“The panacea, she counsels, is to unquestioningly accede to the view of elite experts and reallocate society’s riches by racial means as necessary to ‘level the playing field,’ all as judged by racial metrics. I strongly disagree,” Thomas noted further.
First, as stated above, any statistical gaps between the average wealth of black and white Americans is constitutionally irrelevant. I, of course, agree that our society is not, and has never been, colorblind. Post, at 2 (JACKSON, J., dissenting); see also Plessy, 163 U. S., at 559 (Harlan, J., dissenting). People discriminate against one another for a whole host of reasons. But, under the Fourteenth Amendment, the law must disregard all racial distinctions:
“In view of the constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved.” Ibid.
Thomas then noted that Jackson “builds from her faulty premise to call for action, arguing that courts should defer to ‘experts’ and allow institutions to discriminate on the basis of race. Make no mistake: Her dissent is not a vanguard of the innocent and helpless. It is instead a call to empower privileged elites, who will ‘tell us is required to level the playing field’ among castes and classifications that they alone can divine.
“Then, after siloing us all into racial castes and pitting those castes against each other, the dissent somehow believes that we will be able—at some undefined point—to ‘march forward together’ into some utopian vision. Social movements that invoke these sorts of rallying cries, historically, have ended disastrously,” he noted further.