Justice Thomas Likens Affirmative Action to Segregation Laws

By:  Jack Kenny
Justice Thomas Likens Affirmative Action to Segregation Laws

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas likened the rationale for an affirmative action admissions policy to segregationist arguments of previous decades.

The rationale of the University of Texas for using race as a factor in determining who will be admitted to the school "echoes" legal arguments made by segregationists in previous decades, wrote Justice Clarence Thomas in his opinion in the U.S Supreme Court decision issued Monday on a constitutional challenge to the university's affirmative action program.

In a 7-1 decision, the court reaffirmed its holding in an affirmative action case of a decade ago, ruling that race may be considered among other factors in an admissions policy to meet a "compelling state interest" in achieving a diverse student population. But it remanded to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans the suit brought by Texas resident Abigail Fisher (shown), a white student who was denied admission to the University of Texas. Fisher claims her right to the constitutionally guaranteed "equal protection of the laws" was violated by the Austin university's race-based consideration. Fisher's suit was denied in both the federal district court and appeals court level, but the Supreme Court Monday instructed the appeals court to reexamine the case, exercising the standard of "strict scrutiny" to determine if the racial consideration is necessary to achieve the goal of educational diversity. Thomas was one of the seven justices agreeing on the remand, but his concurring opinion indicated he would rather send the court's affirmative action rulings to the dustbin of overturned precedents. Thomas wrote:

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.

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Photo of Abigail Fisher: AP Images

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