Justice Thomas drops the mic against college affirmative action: ‘I’ve heard similar arguments in favor of segregation too’

As the Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday regarding challenges to race-based admission policies at universities, conservative members pointed to the “potentially dangerous” defense as Justice Clarence Thomas contended “I’ve heard similar arguments in favor of segregation, too.”

The nonprofit organization Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) made its case in both suits Monday as they sought to see the court overturn the ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 decision in favor of affirmative action despite the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. As previously reported, the success of SFFA against Harvard and the University of North Carolina (UNC) would prohibit race as a consideration for college admissions in the name of diversity.

As North Carolina Solicitor General Ryan Park presented his argument in the UNC case, Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh both made reference to Grutter in response to the defense’s selective use of precedent.

In response to Park contending “we are trying to comply with this Court’s precedents, which require the–the minimal consideration of race on a holistic basis,” Barrett fired back, “This Court’s precedents, I mean, Grutter also say…using racial classifications are so potentially dangerous, however compelling their goals, they can be employed no more broadly,” and, “all governmental use of race must have a logical end point, reasonable durational limits, sunset provisions, and race-conscious admissions policies.”

Grutter very clearly says this is so dangerous,” she added. “Grutter doesn’t say this is great, we embrace this.”

“Instead of leaving it vague,” Kavanaugh reiterated Barrett’s use of the phrase “potentially dangerous,” in a follow-up, “the opinion didn’t say until you reach a point where you’re satisfied that diversity has been achieved or something vague like that, it said 25 years in there.” The justice used this to hammer home why Park had “difficulty…answering the question.”

Justice Thomas also went after the ambiguity of the defense as he asserted, “I’ve heard the word ‘diversity’ quite a few times, and I don’t have a clue what it means. It seems to mean everything for everyone….you did give some examples in your opening remarks, but I’d like you to give us a specific definition of diversity in the context of the University of North Carolina. And I’d also like you to give us a clear idea of exactly what the education benefits of diversity at the University of North Carolina would be.”

Briefly sounding like Vice President Kamala Harris, Park tried, “We define diversity the way this court has and this court’s precedents, which means a broadly diverse set of criteria that expands to all different backgrounds and perspectives and not solely limited to race,” before referencing a specific record that there are “many different diversity factors that are considered as a greater factor in our admissions process than race.”

To the latter question he tried to suggest, “diversity of all kinds leads to ‘a deeper and richer learning environment,’ leads to more creative thinking and exchange of ideas, and, critically, reduced bias between people of different backgrounds and not solely for racial backgrounds.”

Thomas, however, was not satisfied, stating, “But you still haven’t given me the education benefits. I didn’t go to racially diverse schools, but there were educational benefits. And I’d like you to tell me expressly when a parent sends a kid to college, that they don’t necessarily send them there to have fun or feel good or anything like that; they send them there to learn physics or chemistry or whatever their study. So tell me what the educational benefits are.”

In part, Park contended the “most pertinent” part regarded “the actual truth-seeking function of learning in a diverse environment” and claimed better performance resulted from racially diverse groups.”

The justice smacked down that idea by declaring, “Well, I guess I don’t put much stock in that because I’ve heard similar arguments in favor of segregation, too.”

As he had written in 2003, “The Constitution abhors classifications based on race, not only because those classifications can harm favored races or are based on illegitimate motives, but also because every time the government places citizens on racial registers and makes race relevant to the provision of burdens or benefits, it demeans us all.”

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