Clarence Thomas compares affirmative action to Jim Crow laws

Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court justice, explains his legal reasoning for rejecting affirmative action in the latest court ruling. Clarence Thomas admits that he was a beneficiary of affirmative action.

(AP Photo/Tribune Review, Sidney Davis)
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas ponders a question from The Honorable Thomas M. Hardiman during a program at the Duquesne University School of Law earlier these year in Pittsburgh.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas got into Yale Law School thanks in part to affirmative action, according to his autobiography.

But that doesn't make him a fan of the laws designed to improve the employment or educational opportunities of members of minority groups and women.

Justice Thomas went along with Monday's Supreme Court decision that sent a case about affirmative action in college admissions back to a lower court.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported, "The opinion establishes a new, tougher test for assessing the constitutionality of affirmative action admissions programs. The challenged school must be able to prove there are no workable race-neutral alternatives to achieve a racially diverse student body."

But his in concurring statements, Thomas compared the arguments used by the University of Texas, Austin, to Jim Crow segregationists.

"While the University admits that racial discrimination in admissions is not ideal, it asserts that it is a temporary necessity because of the enduring race consciousness of our society. Yet again, the University echoes the hollow justifications advanced by the segregationists,” wrote Thomas in his dissent.

Citing the 14th Amendment (and previous legal precedents) Thomas argued that no state shall "deny to any person ... the equal protection of the laws. The Equal Protection Clause guarantees every person the right to be treated equally by the State, without regard to race. At the heart of this [guarantee] lies the principle that the government must treat citizens as individuals and not as members of racial, ethnic, or religious groups.

"It is for this reason that we must subject all racial classifications to the strictest of scrutiny. Under strict scrutiny, all racial classifications are categorically prohibited unless they are 'necessary to further a compelling government interest.' "

Thomas goes on to write: "Unfortunately for the University, the educational benefits flowing from student body diversity – assuming they exist – hardly qualify as a compelling state interest. Indeed, the argument that educational benefits justify racial discrimination was advanced in support of racial segregation in the 1950’s, but emphatically rejected by this Court. And just as the alleged educational benefits of segregation were insufficient to justify racial discrimination then … the alleged educational benefits of diversity cannot justify racial discrimination today.”

"I don't expect Clarence Thomas to ever support affirmative action even though he was the beneficiary of affirmative action," Marc Morial, president and CEO of the civil rights group the National Urban League told US News & World Report.  "But this case is not over. The good news is that the case did not overrule the compelling necessity of diversity in college admissions. And so I hope we're going to see this case again in the Supreme Court in two or three years."

[Editor's Note: The original story mistakenly listed Clarence Thomas as the sole dissenter in the 7-1 Supreme Court ruling. In fact, the sole dissenter was Ruth Bader Ginsburg]

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