Supreme Court conservatives sound awfully keen on white power

One day after hearing oral arguments in cases that would, if conservatives have their way, solidify white voting power in the apportionment and redistricting processes in states around the country, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments today in a case with even more explicit racial implications: Fisher v University of Texas – Austin.

The case, which rehashes a 2013 case of the same name, asks whether race-based considerations in college admissions violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. In 2013, the Court held by a 7-1 margin that such considerations were acceptable, but only under strict scrutiny. Justice Kennedy has already expressed frustration today that there appear to be no new facts in this year’s version of the case. Since he is generally considered to be the Court’s swing justice, this bodes well for those who would like to see the University’s admissions policy upheld, although Elena Kagan’s recusal (she was involved in the case during her time as solicitor general) makes a 4-4 tie a real possibility. In that case, the University’s admissions policy would be upheld, but no precedent would be set.

Either way, the case still represents potential long-term challenges for non-white students, as the Court’s more conservative justices have lent credence to some strikingly racist ideas during today’s proceedings.

First up, Antonin Scalia, because of course Scalia said something awful today:

From TalkingPointsMemo:

Antonin Scalia, via Wikimedia Commons

Antonin Scalia, via Wikimedia Commons

Referencing an unidentified amicus brief, Scalia said that there were people who would contend “that it does not benefit African-Americans” who don’t do well in the schools that accept them under affirmative action, and that those students would be better off in the less advanced schools that they would have otherwise gone to.

One could just as easily ask if white students are disadvantaged by systems of privilege — such as legacy admissions — that put them in more prestigious schools with (presumably) more difficult classes. Of course, no one would take such an argument seriously because of course getting a leg up into Harvard, or UT-Austin (which does not have legacy admission), helps the student in the long run.

But it wasn’t just Scalia, the Twitter-egg-turned-Supreme-Court-Justice, who questioned the very premise of affirmative action. Chief Justice John Roberts, who previously voided much of the Voting Rights Act under the deliberately ignorant assumption that racism in America no longer exists, later mused that diversity isn’t a worthwhile goal for a college because math doesn’t discriminate:

Roberts also asked lawyers for the defendants if there would ever be a time in which racial considerations would no longer be necessary, citing a 25-year standard the Court proposed in a 2003 case involving the University of Michigan:

The majority of Justice Alito’s questions focused on comparing the non-white students admitted through Texas’s policy of guaranteeing admission to any public school student in the top ten percent of their graduating class to the non-white students who were admitted through the holistic admissions process. As the holistic admissions process, which includes race, is, well, holistic, it’s impossible to make an apples-to-apples comparison between the two groups. However, lawyers for the University stated repeatedly throughout the proceedings that the number of non-white students at UT-Austin dramatically increased after the policy was adopted.

At the end of the day, some of the most powerful white men in the country just legitimized a host of racist arguments that perpetuate the myth that America is some post-racial, colorblind society that doesn’t put non-white kids on a track that makes them less likely to be accepted to our best schools — or to any school, for that matter. Even if the Court upholds this particular admissions policy, these arguments are sticking around for next time.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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