by Dr. Andy Jackson
Director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity, John Locke Foundation
I recently wrote about the University of North Carolina’s legal fight to continue discriminating by race in its admissions policies. The fight is in SFFA v. UNC, for which the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on November 1.
Plaintiffs in the case are asking the high court to overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 case in which a 5-4 majority ruled that colleges could continue to consider an applicant’s race for admission. To illustrate why the court erred in that case, I am posting the opening of Justice Clarence Thomas’ partial dissent (starting on page 44) of that ruling below.
Frederick Douglass, speaking to a group of abolitionists almost 140 years ago, delivered a message lost on today’s majority:
“[I]n regard to the colored people, there is always more that is benevolent, I perceive, than just, manifested towards us. What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us. . . . I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! . . . And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! . . . [Y]our interference is doing him positive injury.” What the Black Man Wants: An Address Delivered in Boston, Massachusetts, on 26 January 1865, reprinted in 4 The Frederick Douglass Papers 59, 68 (J. Blassingame & J. McKivigan eds. 1991) (emphasis in original).
Like Douglass, I believe blacks can achieve in every avenue of American life without the meddling of university administrators. Because I wish to see all students succeed whatever their ethnic heritage, I share, in some respect, the sympathies of those who sponsor the type of discrimination advanced by the University of Michigan Law School (Law School). The Constitution does not, however, tolerate institutional devotion to the status quo in admissions policies when such devotion ripens into racial discrimination. Nor does the Constitution countenance the unprecedented deference the Court gives to the Law School, an approach inconsistent with the very concept of “strict scrutiny.”
No one would argue that a university could set up a lower general admissions standard and then impose heightened requirements only on black applicants. Similarly, a university may not maintain a high admissions standard and grant exemptions to favored races. The Law School, of its own choosing, and for its own purposes, maintains an exclusionary admissions system that it knows produces racially disproportionate results. Racial discrimination is not a permissible solution to the self-inflicted wounds of this elitist admissions policy.
The majority upholds the Law School’s racial discrimination not by interpreting the people’s Constitution, but by responding to a faddish slogan of the cognoscenti. Nevertheless, I concur in part in the Court’s opinion. First, I agree with the Court insofar as its decision, which approves of only one racial classification, confirms that further use of race in admissions remains unlawful. Second, I agree with the Court’s holding that racial discrimination in higher education admissions will be illegal in 25 years. See ante, at 343 (stating that racial discrimination will no longer be narrowly tailored, or “necessary to further” a compelling state interest, in 25 years). I respectfully dissent from the remainder of the Court’s opinion and the judgment, however, because I believe that the Law School’s current use of race violates the Equal Protection Clause and that the Constitution means the same thing today as it will in 300 months.
It is my firm hope that we will see Justice Thomas deliver the opinion of the court in SFFA v. UNC.