Court's 2 Black Justices Blast Each Other in Race Case

Kentanji Brown Jackson, Clarence Thomas spar over affirmative action ruling in their separate writings
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 29, 2023 1:06 PM CDT
Updated Jun 29, 2023 1:57 PM CDT
Newest Justice Issues Scathing Dissent in Race Case
Then-nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill last year.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

When the Supreme Court delivered a devastating blow to affirmative action on Thursday, the court's newest justice—and its first Black female—unleashed a blistering dissent. Ketanji Brown Jackson also sparred with the court's other Black justice, Clarence Thomas, in their separate opinions on the case, even calling each other out by name. Coverage:

  • The ruling: The majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts struck down as unconstitutional college admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina that factored in applicants' race. The policies "lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points," wrote Roberts. Read the majority opinion, via CNN.
  • Jackson: In her dissent, Jackson blasted the ruling. "With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces 'colorblindness for all' by legal fiat," she wrote. "But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life," she added. "And having so detached itself from this country's actual past and present experiences, the Court has now been lured into interfering with the crucial work that UNC and other institutions of higher learning are doing to solve America's real-world problems."
  • Jackson, II: "Today's ruling makes things worse, not better," Jackson wrote. "If the colleges of this country are required to ignore a thing that matters, it will not just go away. It will take longer for racism to leave us. And, ultimately, ignoring race just makes it matter more." Read her full dissent, via Politico. The Hill notes that Jackson recused herself from the Harvard case because she previously served on its Board of Overseers, but she did participate in the UNC case. Thus, the rulings were 6-2 and 6-3 respectively.

  • Thomas: Newsweek notes that Thomas took exception to Jackson's view in particular. "As she sees things, we are all inexorably trapped in a fundamentally racist society, with the original sin of slavery and the historical subjugation of black Americans still determining our lives today," Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion, which he read from the bench in a rare move, per the Hill. "Worse still, Justice Jackson uses her broad observations about statistical relationships between race and select measures of health, wealth, and well-being to label all blacks as victims," he wrote. "Her desire to do so is unfathomable to me." Read it in full here.
  • Responding to Thomas: CNN notes that Jackson added a footnote to her own dissent to respond to Thomas. "Justice Thomas ignites too many more straw men to list, or fully extinguish, here," she wrote. "The takeaway is that those who demand that no one think about race (a classic pink-elephant paradox) refuse to see, much less solve for, the elephant in the room—the race-linked disparities that continue to impede achievement of our great Nation's full potential."
  • Sotomayor: Justice Sonia Sotomayor also wrote a dissent, which you can read here. "Today, this Court stands in the way and rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress," she wrote, adding that the decision "cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter," per the New York Times. However, "the pursuit of racial diversity will go on," she wrote. "Although the Court has stripped out almost all uses of race in college admissions, universities can and should continue to use all available tools to meet society's needs for diversity in education."
(More Ketanji Brown Jackson stories.)

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