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Justice Scalia to Justice Thomas: I Never Thought Much of You

Will Justice Scalia's racist language of black inferiority finally change how Justice Clarence Thomas votes on this issue?

Last week, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia decided to unveil his white supremacist beliefs about black intellectual capacity and diversity. During oral arguments of Fisher V. University of Texas-Austin, an affirmative action case discussing the merits of ‘race’ based inclusionary practices to assure a degree of diversity, Scalia said the following:

There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school, where they do well...

I’m just not impressed by the fact that the University of Texas may have fewer. Maybe it ought to have fewer. And maybe, when you take more, the number of blacks, really competent blacks, admitted to lesser schools, turns out to be less. I don’t think it stands to reason that it’s a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible.

Scalia clearly expresses a view that rests on insidious assumptions of black inferiority and an indifference to the benefits of diversity, following the Supreme Court's long history of finding justification to exercise an intellectual and physical assault on the black body. Previous court decisions such as DredScott, emphasized a permanence of subordination in America’s racialized hierarchy in the mid 1850’s, and Plessy v Ferguson was an affirmation of legalized racial segregation rooted in a core belief of white supremacy.

Scalia’s contention is just the latest incarnation of overt racism coming from the highest court in the land. One could assume Scalia, who attended -- arguably the most elite school in the world, Harvard Law School, was not made aware that the school proudly boasts the highest graduation rate of African Americans in the nation at 96 percent. One could also believe Scalia was not given a copy of The Journal of Blacks in HigherEducation as part of his case briefings. If so, he would see black graduation rates at Princeton are at 93 percent. Other elite institutions such as Columbia, Brown, Stanford, Georgetown, University of Virginia, Smith College, Duke University and Swarthmore College also claim 85 percent and above graduation rates for African Americans. These numbers not only suggest rigorous standards being met, but also the support and commitment these universities place on retention and success.

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education also shared more sobering statistics of poor graduation rates, nationally. The Journal indicated that nationwide, graduation rates for black students are at 42 percent. While this number on its surface is a cause for alarm, context was provided. For example, it’s important to consider a university’s racial climate, geographic location, mentoring programs, financial aid packages, internal network of support (unions, organizations, sororities and fraternities) and curriculum as possible indicators of success.

But one gets the sense that Justice Scalia -- on the issue of ‘race’ and college admissions, is not interested in context or nuance. His record of voting against affirmative action measures have been consistent throughout his tenure on the bench. However, this is the first time Scalia was so explicit in associating blackness with lower standards and anti-intellectualism as part of his diatribe on the issue.

Which begs the question: Will Scalia's racist language of black inferiority change how Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas votes on this issue? Justice Thomas, the only black member of the court, rightly or wrongly, has seen his intellectual gravitas questioned in some circles. And Thomas's history of remaining conspicuously silent during oral arguments provides ammunition for people with those views.

But on the issue of affirmative action, Thomas has been a vocal opponent to 'race' based remedies. When the Fisher case first came to the supreme court in 2013, Thomas suggested the ideas behind affirmative action as another form of racial discrimination that he detests. Justice Thomas also questioned the need to consciously push for racial diversity on college campuses. In a column for the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin surmised that Thomas's open hostility toward affirmative action can be traced back to his days at Yale University, where he had been accepted due to affirmative action and felt stigmatized by it. “I couldn’t get a job out of Yale Law School,” Thomas told an interviewer in 1998.“That’s how much good it did me. I think I’ll send the degree back.”

Whether one believes Justice Thomas continues to suffer from intellectual trauma as a reason for his animus towards affirmative action remains a subject for debate. The crux of his arguments in opposition -- up until now -- are similar to Scalia's. But Thomas is now faced with a new reality. A fellow Justice on the bench, a man he is often associated with in voting record and interpretation of the constitution, implies black inferiority. Based on Scalia's incendiary comments, he thinks little of Justice Thomas and black people in general. Justice Thomas will vote on this case again in June 2016. At that time, we will once again find out what Justice Thomas thinks of himself.