Clarence Thomas Compares Affirmative Action to Slavery

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

David Corn, Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones, tackles U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' comments following the court's ruling in the Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas case, particularly Thomas' comparisons of the arguments for slavery to those for affirmative action. 

In the moments after the decision was released, legal experts disagreed on how much impact it could have on the use of affirmative action at both public and private universities and colleges (though the case only directly applied to public institutions). But just as important, the court bypassed the opportunity to reverse previous rulings and eviscerate affirmative action.

That means it was a bad day for Justice Clarence Thomas. As he notes in a concurring opinion (that reads like a dissent), he wanted the court to "hold that a State's use of race in higher education admissions is categorically prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause." Thomas' decision was longer than that of the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. He compared the arguments in favor of affirmative action to those used to support segregation in years bygone, calling them "virtually identical" to the contentions the court rejected to undo segregation. He declared, "the use of race has little to do with the alleged educational benefits of diversity." And he went as far as you would expect, noting that "Slaveholders argued that slavery was a 'positive good' that civilized blacks and elevated them in every dimension of life." Yes, Thomas compared the justification of affirmative action to the justification for slavery. And he asserted that affirmative action harms white and Asian-American students denied admission but actually causes more harm to those admitted under such programs: "Blacks and Hispanics admitted to the University as a result of racial discrimination are, on average, far less prepared than their white and Asian classmates."

Thomas' opinion was a cry of the heart against affirmative action — and a cry of frustration. Juxtaposed against such an extreme rant, the majority opinion looked rather moderate.

Read David Corn's entire piece at Mother Jones.   

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

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