In the Supreme Court chamber, the subject was race, the mood was somber, the criticism harsh

by Andrew Wright
Supreme Court justices

In the solemn ambiance of the Supreme Court chamber, the focal point was race, and the atmosphere weighed heavily with tension and severe criticism.

Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the Supreme Court’s decision that struck down race-based admissions in higher education. However, it was the three justices who collectively represented the court’s greatest diversity in its 233-year history that highlighted the clear and bitter battle lines surrounding affirmative action.

This was a moment laden with historical significance and intense emotion. Clarence Thomas, the longest-serving justice and the court’s second African American justice, read a concurring opinion from the bench, pointedly rejecting the validity of using race as the foundation for preferential consideration. He was followed by Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina justice, whose dissenting opinion directly targeted Thomas. Lastly, Ketanji Brown Jackson, the court’s first African American woman, delivered her own scathing, metaphorical dissent in written form.

Inside the courtroom on Thursday, a somber mood prevailed, with most justices remaining expressionless and occasionally taking sips of water. Jackson and Sotomayor both gazed straight ahead as Roberts read the majority opinion and Thomas presented his concurrence.

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Thomas, who has consistently opposed race-based measures brought before the court since his confirmation in 1991, focused on how such practices had adversely affected Asian Americans while favoring Black students.

“While it is not my usual practice to announce my separate opinions from the bench, the race-based discrimination against Asian Americans in these cases compels me to do so today,” Thomas stated.

He later added, “The Constitution continues to embody a simple truth: Two discriminatory wrongs cannot make a right.”

Thomas firmly asserted that the nation’s racial issues cannot be resolved through “affirmative action or any other form of equity. Racialism cannot be undone through more racialism or alternative approaches.”

Regarding the court’s ruling on Thursday, he remarked, “It is evident that, in the future, universities seeking to engage in race-based admissions must provide a compelling and measurable state interest supported by concrete evidence. Considering the limitations set forth by the court, I highly doubt any institution will be able to fulfill these requirements.”

Throughout his career, Thomas has consistently opposed affirmative action, but until Thursday, he had mostly found himself on the losing side of the court’s decisions.

Although his viewpoint prevailed this time, it did not leave him unscathed.

Thomas and Sotomayor, who sit next to each other as the senior and third-most-senior associate justices, both hail from humble backgrounds and have openly acknowledged how affirmative action played a role in their college and law school admissions.

However, any sense of a shared journey was conspicuously absent. When Sotomayor presented her dissent, tension hung in the air within the ornate and dignified chamber, adorned with sculpted marble panels depicting Justice, Wisdom, and Truth, as well as various historic figures from Moses to Mohammad gazing down from above.

While she criticized the majority opinion and claimed it was undoing “decades of precedent and significant progress,” her most visible disdain was directed at Thomas’ opinion.

“Justice Thomas puts forth an ‘originalist defense of the colorblind Constitution,’ but his historical analysis inevitably leads to the conclusion that the Constitution is not, in fact, colorblind.”

Sotomayor further criticized Thomas for selectively invoking race when it suited his arguments and accused him of perpetuating racial stereotypes.

“As for Justice Thomas, he presents numerous arguments suggesting that race-conscious college admissions policies supposedly ‘burden’ racial minorities. However, none of these arguments hold any merit,” she stated. “He renews his argument that the use of race in holistic admissions inevitably results in the ‘inevitable underperformance’ of Black and Latino students at prestigious universities due to their supposedly lesser academic preparedness compared to white and Asian students.”

Jackson, who recused herself from the Harvard case due to her prior role on the advisory board, lamented that the decision was “truly a tragedy for us all.”

The 6-3 decision had been anticipated since before Jackson joined the court in 2022, with two cases involving Harvard and the University of North Carolina heading towards rulings. The court had shifted further to the conservative side during President Donald Trump’s administration, particularly after the passing of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her replacement by conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020.

“With an obliviousness akin to ‘let-them-eat-cake,’ the majority today declares ‘colorblindness for all’ through legal fiat,” Jackson wrote. “However, deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in reality.”

She criticized the court for disconnecting itself from the actual experiences of the country’s past and present.

In her footnotes, Jackson noted that Thomas “demonstrates an obsession with race consciousness that far exceeds my or UNC’s comprehensive understanding that race can be a factor influencing applicants’ unique life experiences.” She added that the key takeaway was that “those who demand that no one consider race (a classic pink-elephant paradox) refuse to acknowledge, let alone address, the elephant in the room—the race-linked disparities that continue to hinder the realization of our nation’s full potential.”

While legal barriers may have been eliminated, race still holds significance, she argued. “At best, the majority’s perspective assumes (with ostrich-like naivety) that eliminating the consideration of race will end racism.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Supreme Court justices, race-based admissions

What was the focus of the Supreme Court ruling mentioned in the text?

The Supreme Court ruling mentioned in the text focused on striking down race-based admissions in higher education.

Who were the three justices mentioned as marking the diverse battle lines over affirmative action?

The three justices mentioned were Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ketanji Brown Jackson. Clarence Thomas is the court’s second Black justice, Sonia Sotomayor is its first Latina justice, and Ketanji Brown Jackson is the court’s first Black woman justice.

How did Clarence Thomas view the use of race in admissions?

Clarence Thomas rejected the validity of using race as the basis for preferential consideration in admissions. He argued that race-based discrimination against Asian Americans compelled him to deliver a concurring opinion opposing such practices.

What was Sonia Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion about?

Sonia Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion criticized the majority opinion and argued against rolling back “decades of precedent and momentous progress.” She also took aim at Clarence Thomas, accusing him of perpetuating racial stereotypes and using race when it suited his arguments.

What did Ketanji Brown Jackson state about the court’s decision?

Ketanji Brown Jackson called the court’s decision “truly a tragedy for us all.” She expressed her disagreement with the majority’s perspective, stating that it detached itself from the country’s actual past and present experiences regarding race.

How did the mood in the courtroom during the ruling appear?

The mood in the courtroom was described as somber, with most justices sitting expressionless and occasionally sipping water. Both Jackson and Sotomayor looked straight ahead as Chief Justice Roberts read the majority opinion and Clarence Thomas delivered his concurrence.

More about Supreme Court justices, race-based admissions

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SportsFanatic June 30, 2023 - 4:46 am

The Supreme Court is like a real-life court drama! The justices takin’ sides, throwin’ shade at each other. Can’t wait to see how dis decision shapes da future of admissions.

JohnDoe456 June 30, 2023 - 4:49 am

i luv how dis text captures da mood in da courtroom, somber n tension-filld. Justices sittin’ expressionless, takin’ sips of water. Can feel da drama unfoldin’ with each word.

GrammarNerd82 June 30, 2023 - 10:39 am

Stylistic errors aside, dis text paints a vivid picture of da intense battle over race-based admissions. It’s a reminder dat race is still a contentious issue, even in da highest court of da land.

Jane123 June 30, 2023 - 10:46 am

wow, dis is sum intense courtroom drama!! Suprem court justices goin’ at each other over race-based admissions. Thomas n sotomayor, dey don’t see eye 2 eye! History in da making, fo sho.

BookLover27 June 30, 2023 - 9:46 pm

The clash of opinions on affirmative action is so fascinatin’. Thomas, Sotomayor, n Jackson bringin’ diverse perspectives. It’s amazin’ how much race still matters in our society.


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