Justice Thomas Demurs

Last week, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc v

President and Fellows of Harvard College, in which the Court ruled that the use of race in college admissions was unconstitutional.

This post is centered entirely on Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion, and that part of it in which he took issue with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s dissent, a dissent that, IMNSHO, is steeped in racism. Thomas noted that

With the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, the people of our Nation proclaimed that the law may not sort citizens based on race.

Then he proceeded [external citations omitted, references to Brown’s dissent retained].

Yet, JUSTICE J ACKSON would replace the second Founders’ vision with an organizing principle based on race. In fact, on her view, almost all of life’s outcomes may be unhesitatingly ascribed to race. Post, at 24–26. This is so, she writes, because of statistical disparities among different racial groups. See post, at 11–14. Even if some whites have a lower household net worth than some blacks, what matters to JUSTICE J ACKSON is that the average white household has more wealth than the average black household. Post, at 11.
This lore is not and has never been true. Even in the segregated South where I grew up, individuals were not the sum of their skin color. Then as now, not all disparities are based on race; not all people are racist; and not all differences between individuals are ascribable to race. Put simply, “the fate of abstract categories of wealth statistics is not the same as the fate of a given set of flesh-and-blood human beings.” T. Sowell, Wealth, Poverty and Politics 333 (2016). Worse still, JUSTICE J ACKSON uses her broad observations about statistical relationships between race and select measures of health, wealth, and well-being to label all blacks as victims. Her desire to do so is unfathomable to me. I cannot deny the great accomplishments of black Americans, including those who succeeded despite long concurring odds.
Nor do JUSTICE JACKSON’s statistics regarding a correlation between levels of health, wealth, and well-being between selected racial groups prove anything. Of course, none of those statistics are capable of drawing a direct causal link between race—rather than socioeconomic status or any other factor—and individual outcomes. So JUSTICE JACKSON supplies the link herself: the legacy of slavery and the nature of inherited wealth. This, she claims, locks blacks into a seemingly perpetual inferior caste. Such a view is irrational; it is an insult to individual achievement and cancerous to young minds seeking to push through barriers, rather than consign themselves to permanent victim- hood. If an applicant has less financial means (because of generational inheritance or otherwise), then surely a university may take that into account. If an applicant has medical struggles or a family member with medical concerns, a university may consider that too. What it cannot do is use the applicant’s skin color as a heuristic, assuming that because the applicant checks the box for “black” he therefore conforms to the university’s monolithic and reductionist view of an abstract, average black person. Accordingly, JUSTICE J ACKSON’s race-infused world view falls flat at each step. Individuals are the sum of their unique experiences, challenges, and accomplishments. What matters is not the barriers they face, but how they choose to confront them. And their race is not to blame for everything—good or bad—that happens in their lives. A contrary, myopic world view based on individuals’ skin color to the total exclusion of their personal choices is nothing short of racial determinism.
JUSTICE JACKSON then 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 [what] is required to level the playing field” among castes and classifications that they alone can divine. Post, at 26; see also post, at 5–7. 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. Post, at 26.

What Justice Thomas said.

The Court’s ruling, including Thomas’ concurrence and Brown’s dissent, can be read here.

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