Ketanji Brown Jackson Clashes With Lawyer During Supreme Court Arguments


OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday to the University of North Carolina and Harvard’s race-based admissions. Both UNC and Harvard have been sued over allegations of discrimination against Asian and white Americans, with some arguing their civil rights were violated in the admissions process.

Newly sworn-in Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson clashed with a lawyer for a student group seeking to end affirmative action in college admissions.

“Why is it that race is doing anything different to your members’ ability to compete in this environment,” in comparison to a number of other factors involved in admissions, Jackson asked Patrick Strawbridge, the lawyer representing Students for Fair Admissions.


“It’s in the context of all of the other factors…the admissions office is looking at,” Jackson added. “You haven’t demonstrated or shown one situation in which all they look at is race. They’re looking at the full person.”

Jackson argued that race is almost never the only factor in a college admission decision. However, he argued that the fact it is one factor that tips the scales unfairly for at least some applicants.

“It makes no sense in a zero-sum game. If we are going to consider race, and we argue that a racial classification – which is highly disfavored at law because of its necessarily invidious nature – is going to be used, it clearly must be doing some work,” Strawbridge told Jackson.

Strawbridge argued schools that use affirmative action are “making distinctions upon who it will admit at least in part on the race of the applicant. Some races get a benefit. Some races do not get a benefit.”

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SFFA says that it, “is a coalition of prospective applicants and applicants to higher education institutions who were denied admission to higher education institutions, their parents, and other individuals who support the organization’s purpose and mission of eliminating racial discrimination in higher education admissions. SFFA has members throughout the country.”

Looking ahead, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas previously made it clear he was ready to strike down affirmative action, calling the practice comparable to “bigotry.”

“I note that racial engineering does in fact have insidious consequences,” Thomas wrote, concerning a challenge to an affirmative action program at the University of Texas. “There can be no doubt that the University’s discrimination injures white and Asian applicants who are denied admission because of their race. But I believe the injury to those admitted under the University’s discriminatory admissions program is even more harmful,” Thomas previously argued.

“Blacks and Hispanics admitted to the University as a result of racial discrimination are, on average, far less prepared than their white and Asian classmates,” Thomas added.


“The University admits minorities who otherwise would have attended less selective colleges where they would have been more evenly matched,” he argued. “But, as a result of the mismatching, many blacks and Hispanics who likely would have excelled at less elite schools are placed in a position where underperformance is all but inevitable because they are less academically prepared than the white and Asian students with whom they must compete. Setting aside the damage wreaked upon the self-confidence of these overmatched students, there is no evidence that they learn more at the university than they would have learned at other schools for which they were better prepared. Indeed, they may learn less.”


Alex Deise, an attorney and policy manager at FreedomWorks, said the Supreme Court can deliver a “historic” decision to abolish the “ability for higher education to use race-based affirmative action in admissions.”

“By taking these cases, the Supreme Court has a historic opportunity to eliminate the ability of colleges and universities to explicitly discriminate on the basis of race in their admissions process,” Deise said.

“The Court made a serious mistake in Grutter v Bollinger (2003) when it upheld these processes under the false notion that the educational benefits from a diverse student body were more important than the Equal Protection Clause’s central command of race neutrality,” he added. “The Court should overrule Grutter and heed Chief Justice Roberts advice from a similar case that ‘the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.’


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