Black Justices Clash in Affirmative Action Ruling

Despite Justices Clarence Thomas and Ketanji Brown Jackson sharing a common understanding of the policy’s objective, they expressed strong criticism towards each other’s respective conclusions on how to address it.

In a remarkable dialogue that unfolded within a groundbreaking Supreme Court decision, which declared race-conscious admissions at colleges and universities across the nation as illegal, two Black justices engaged in a contentious debate regarding the merits of affirmative action.

Engaging in vehement rebuttals, Justices Clarence Thomas and Ketanji Brown Jackson delivered scathing critiques of each other’s viewpoints, highlighting the profound divisions and fervor among Americans concerning the practice. While seemingly aligned in their recognition of the policy’s objective — addressing the historical discrimination and segregation faced by Black Americans — they arrived at divergent conclusions regarding the means and actions to be taken.

Raised by Black family members who endured the hardships of Jim Crow and segregation, both justices experienced admission to prestigious law schools (Justice Jackson at Harvard and Justice Thomas at Yale) prior to their elevation to the Supreme Court. However, their contrasting perspectives on the law and their divergent comprehension of affirmative action and its significance in American society could not be more distinct.

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Within his concurring opinion, Justice Thomas directly addressed Justice Jackson, presenting an extensive critique that specifically targeted her perspectives on race while simultaneously levying broader criticisms against the liberal backing of affirmative action.

In his written statement, he expressed that, according to her perspective, we find ourselves inevitably confined within a fundamentally racist society, where the enduring impact of slavery and historical oppression of Black Americans continues to shape our lives.

Within her dissent, Justice Jackson assertively countered his statements, vehemently condemning his remarks as a protracted assault that addressed a dissent she did not actually express, with the intent to criticize an admissions program that does not align with the one formulated by U.N.C.

While they agreed on the history and facts surrounding racial disparities in the United States, Justice Jackson acknowledged that their conclusions diverged entirely. She noted that Justice Thomas was convinced that these realities had no relevance when evaluating “individual achievement,” while also criticizing his use of numerous straw man arguments. Their responses essentially evolved into a debate over the enduring legacy of racism and ongoing discrimination, as well as the most effective approach to address it.

Justice Thomas strongly criticized Justice Jackson’s endorsement of affirmative action, portraying it as a cure-all where society would unquestioningly defer to the perspectives of privileged experts and redistribute societal resources based on race in order to “level the playing field.” While he acknowledged that our society is not colorblind, he deemed the wealth disparities between Black and white Americans as constitutionally insignificant. In Justice Jackson’s viewpoint, according to Justice Thomas, nearly all life outcomes can be attributed without hesitation to race.

He reiterated a recurring theme found in his writings and speeches over the years: his frustration with the portrayal of Black individuals as victims. Disputing statistics that illustrate the significant income disparity between white and Black families, he argued that such data unfairly paints Black people as a homogeneous group. “This belief is unfounded and has never been accurate,” he expressed. “In the segregated South of my upbringing, individuals were not merely confined to the limitations of their skin color.”

Referencing a 2016 book by Thomas Sowell, an economist and influential Black conservative whose philosophy has impacted Justice Thomas’s own views, he accused Justice Jackson of employing “broad generalizations about statistical correlations between race and various measures of health, wealth, and well-being to categorize all Blacks as victims.” Furthermore, he acknowledged, “I cannot disregard the remarkable achievements of Black Americans, including those who triumphed against formidable odds.”

According to Justice Thomas, Justice Jackson’s perspective would perpetuate the confinement of Black individuals within “a seemingly unending inferior status.” He characterized this as “an affront to individual accomplishments and detrimental to the aspirations of young minds striving to overcome barriers, rather than resigning themselves to perpetual victimhood.”

He further remarked that she was relying on “race-based stereotypes,” neglecting the fact that “all racial groups are diverse, including Blacks, encompassing individuals from different regions, economic backgrounds, and with various ancestral origins such as recent immigrants and descendants of slaves.” By emphasizing her black-and-white worldview, Justice Thomas asserted, Justice Jackson disregarded the experiences of other groups such as Chinese immigrants, descendants of Holocaust survivors, and Irish immigrants who fled famine to come to the United States.

In a robust response to Justice Thomas, Justice Jackson sharply accused him of misconstruing her perspective and failing to comprehend the underlying principles behind her support for the policy. She expressed that there are substantial racial inequities concerning the health, wealth, and general welfare of American citizens. She emphasized the importance of acknowledging the historical emergence of these disparities, as they have undeniably been transmitted through generations. Justice Jackson provided a brief historical account of the era of Jim Crow and the Great Migration, elucidating the challenges Black families faced in the face of a legal system designed to hinder their wealth accumulation, while highlighting their resilience and determination. “Despite these barriers, Black individuals persevered,” she penned.


She made reference to the pink elephant paradox as a way to demonstrate that when one actively avoids thinking about something, it becomes incredibly difficult to prevent thoughts about it. The main point emphasized is that individuals who adamantly dismiss the significance of race (resembling a classic pink-elephant paradox) not only fail to recognize but also neglect to confront the glaring problem at hand—the persistent race-based disparities that impede our nation from reaching its utmost potential.

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