"This is the culmination of a dream that has been held by Justice Roberts and especially Clarence Thomas for decades," says Law Professor Justin Hansford.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action didn’t come out of nowhere.
For decades, conservatives on the court have pushed for a “colorblind” view of the constitution, implying that acknowledging race is somehow inherently discriminatory. There is arguably no greater champion of that viewpoint than Justice Clarence Thomas.
And on Thursday, Thomas got his ultimate wish. In a decision split entirely on conservative and liberal lines, the Supreme Court declared the use of race in admissions policies (with narrow exceptions) unconstitutional. The ruling landed a mortal blow to efforts to integrate schools in the United States after years of attacks on integration policies in K-12 education.
“This is the culmination of a dream that has been held by Justice Roberts and especially Clarence Thomas for decades,” says Howard Law School Professor and Executive Director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center, Justin Hansford.
From his rulings in significant affirmative action and integration cases such as Grutter v. Bollinger, Fisher v. University of Texas I & II, and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, Thomas has been nothing if not consistent.
“Clarence Thomas wrote a 58-page concurring opinion that’s pretty extraordinary,” says American University Washington College of Law Professor Stephen Wermiel. “And he read from it from the bench for quite a while, and it is the consummation of Clarence Thomas’s views on race expressed in school desegregation cases expressed in affirmative action cases. I mean, this is the moment he’s been waiting to sort of have his day.”
In his noted concurrent lengthy current opinion in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, Thomas re-iterates his dissent in Grutter. “All forms of discrimination based on race—including so-called affirmative action—are prohibited under the Constitution,” writes Thomas. He goes on to bash Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s argument that our society should work to undue the ills of systemic oppression and slavery, calling obvious signs of inequality such as the wealth gap “irrelevant.” Instead, he says that “the law must disregard all racial distinction.”
It’s an interesting stance from a man who grew up in the Jim Crow South and went on to attend Yale Law School, which had an explicit affirmative action policy at the time he was admitted. Nonetheless, it’s clearly an opinion he’s held for decades.