We all know that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is the conservative rock of the court. But he is oftentimes acknowledged to be something of a scholar as well. And to some of us it cannot but register a bit odd that an allegedly scholarly guy, regardless of where he’s anchored ideologically, could get it so uniformly wrong with respect to issues intended to effect darkness-to-light modifications of the country’s social fabric. Over the years he’s been there, in matters before the court having to do with the disadvantaged position or plight of people of color, Scalia’s has generally not been among the votes for forward movement. And he certainly moved true to form in his controversial pronouncement last week, that the nation’s better institutions are not necessarily where African American students belong.
During oral arguments for a case centered on the disproportionately low enrollment of African American students at the University of Texas, Justice Scalia came up with, essentially, the shocking observation that perhaps that’s how it should be. He first couched his very reactionary take on black admissions in the innocuous and non-indicting context of “There are those who contend” that “less advanced” or “slower-track” schools better serve the needs of African American students. But Scalia’s subsequent, more personalized comment let it all hang out: “I am not impressed that the University of Texas may have fewer blacks. Maybe it ought to.” So there! Behold the unvarnished sentiments of one of the nine who constitute the country’s ultimate forum of judicial review.
In the circumstances, it probably would have been better had Scalia simply held his fire and come down, when the time came, on his customarily negative side of appropriately addressing matters of this nature. The body politic (part of it, anyway) could have done without the broadside he was moved to unleash, implicitly endorsing, as one of his many critics noted, the vulgar racial inferiority concept.
Scalia would likely insist that this and other heated responses to his remarks are off-target blasts that misrepresent what he would submit to be constructive criticism of folks opposed to how the University of Texas and others handle the black / white admissions issue. We don’t buy it. We reject out of hand any attempt to paint Scalia’s utterance as other than issuing from a deep-seated conviction that yesterday’s separate and unequal practice was inherently correct. Capitol Hill frontliners duly weighed in, evidently immune to any sugarcoating try that might ensue. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said of Scalia that his remarks were racist in application, if not in intent. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi went further, suggesting that Scalia should recuse himself from cases involving racial discrimination, having so blatantly displayed his bias.
That any given school’s student population would include some students (of all ethnicities) more challenged by the workload than others is hardly a matter in dispute. To make African American admissions via Affirmative Action the bogeyman in this and suggest that, alternatively, they should be funneled to “slower track” institutions “where they do well” is manifestly prejudicial. And it likely would be revealed to emanate from a pre-Brown v Board of Education sensibility which, we well know, does persist.
It’s also ironic that this particular volley from Scalia would come during the presidency of one Barack Obama, as solid an inspiration for academic ascendancy among persons of color as there’s ever been. Given their way, Scalia and those advocates of an alternative academic path for African Americans would have considered an Obama a candidate for the “slowertrack” option, as opposed to Columbia and Harvard. It remains only for the folks championing this obfuscation of what we believe to be racially engendered maneuvering, to demand of the likes of Obama, as did Donald Trump, that proof be provided of academic success at elite schools.
In a perfect world, an African American member among the court brethren would be the perfect foil for Scalia’s thinly veiled racial intemperance. One could only imagine the response it would have elicited from the lion of yesteryear, Justice Thurgood Marshall. Sadly, no such luck with the African American insultingly installed as Marshall’s replacement back in 1991. Clarence Thomas, to the contrary, is generally seen as a faithful Scalia disciple, almost always voting the way Scalia does as he continues his run as the most highly placed symbol of embarrassment to have befallen people of color, perhaps in living memory.
Justice Scalia’s outrageous call for African American students to seek out institutions of lesser standards to better serve their needs only provides further confirmation of where he’s coming from…which we’ve always known to be an unenlightened and downright ugly place.