Two Black justices sparred with one another over the appropriateness of using race as a factor in admissions decisions at colleges and institutions across the country in an astonishing conversation that took place within the pages of a landmark decision handed down by the Supreme Court that declared race-conscious admissions to be illegal.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Ketanji Brown Jackson exchanged pointed rebuttals in which they strongly chastised one other’s points of view. These exchanges reflected the deep differences and feelings that exist among Americans regarding the practice. Even though they seemed to have the same goal in mind for the policy, which was to end the long-standing prejudice and segregation of African Americans, they arrived at contradictory conclusions regarding how and what should be done.
Both Justice Jackson and Justice Thomas came from Black families who struggled during the Jim Crow era and with segregation. Both Justice Jackson and Justice Thomas attended prestigious law schools before being elevated to the Supreme Court; Justice Jackson attended Harvard, and Justice Thomas attended Yale. However, their interpretation of the law as well as their view of the role that affirmative action plays in everyday life in the United States could not be more different from one another.
In his concurring opinion, Justice Thomas singled out Justice Jackson’s views on race and leveled larger criticisms of liberal support for affirmative action. He did this by personally addressing Justice Jackson in a lengthy critique that appeared in his judgment.
He argued that according to her perspective, “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.” “As she sees things, we are all inexorably trapped in a fundamentally racist society.”
In her dissent, Justice Jackson gave a sharp response to his comments, condemning them as a “prolonged attack” that responded, “to a dissent, I did not write in order to assail an admissions program that is not the one U.N.C. has crafted.” She went on to say that she did not write the opinion that he was responding to.
She acknowledged that the two did not disagree on the history or the facts about racial inequalities in the United States; nonetheless, she acknowledged that the two did not agree on the implications of such facts. She said in her response that Justice Thomas “is somehow persuaded that these realities have no bearing on a fair assessment of ‘individual achievement.'” She continued by saying that he “ignites too many more straw men to list, or fully extinguish.”
Their comments, in essence, amounted to a battle over the enduring legacy of racism and ongoing prejudice, as well as the most effective way to combat it.
Justice Thomas criticized Justice Jackson for his support of affirmative action and characterized it as a panacea in which society would “unquestioningly accede to the view of elite experts and reallocate society’s riches by racial means as necessary to ‘level the playing field.'”
After that, he touched on something that had been a recurrent topic in his writings and speeches over the years: his irritation with the way in which people of African descent were presented as victims.
He disproved the statistics that showed that the average white family generates significantly more money than the average Black family, contending that such figures unfairly depict persons of African descent as a single group.
He wrote that “this legend has never been true and never will be true.” “Even in the racially segregated South, where I grew up, individuals were not the sum of their skin color.”
Justice Jackson was accused of using “broad observations about statistical relationships between race and select measures of health, wealth, and well-being to label all Blacks as victims.” He cited a book published in 2016 by Thomas Sowell, an economist and prominent Black conservative who has influenced the philosophy of Justice Thomas.
He proceeded by saying, “I cannot deny the great accomplishments of Black Americans, including those who succeeded despite the long odds.”
According to him, Justice Jackson’s perspective would maintain the status quo of black people as “a seemingly perpetual inferior caste.” He described that statement as “an insult to individual achievement and cancerous to young minds seeking to push through barriers, rather than consign themselves to permanent victimhood.”
He also argued that she was drawing on “race-based stereotypes,” despite the fact that “all racial groups are heterogeneous, and Blacks are no exception — comprising Northerners and Southerners, rich and poor, and recent immigrants and descendants of slaves,” as he stated in his article.
By “articulating her black-and-white world (literally),” he noted, Justice Jackson neglected the experiences of other groups, such as Chinese immigrants, descendants of Holocaust survivors, and those who emigrated to the United States from Ireland in order to escape famine.
Justice Jackson responded angrily to Justice Thomas, accusing him of making up her point of view and failing to comprehend the rationale behind her support for the policy. Justice Jackson’s response was very forceful.
She claimed that there are significant racial disparities in terms of the health, income, and well-being of American citizens. These disparities are “gulf-sized.” She went on to say that despite the fact that such inequalities first appeared many years ago, it would be irresponsible to ignore that history because those inequalities have “unquestionably been passed down to the present day through the generations.”
Justice Jackson provided a concise history of Jim Crow and the Great Migration. In it, she detailed how black families struggled against a legal system that was designed to prohibit them from earning wealth, and she focused on the grit and fortitude that these families showed.
“Despite these barriers, Black people persisted,” she wrote. “Black people continued to prevail.”