The highest court in the US today debated Fisher v. University of Texas, an affirmative action case, with justices and the public still divided over how much influence an applicant’s racial background should carry in the college admissions process.
During the 90-minute session of oral arguments, Antonin Scalia riled listeners by suggesting that black scholars perform better in “slower track” academic programs. He also speculated that minority students benefiting from affirmative action who matriculate at “advanced” colleges and universities might have been pushed out of their depth.
“Most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas,” he said. “They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re — that they’re being pushed ahead in — in classes that are too — too fast for them.”
Scalia, a conservative justice who’s served on the Supreme Court since 1986, has been a longtime critic of affirmative action and is known for using colorful, even silly, language in the courtroom.
Scalia did not say that he personally believed that black students are better off at less-rigorous schools; he introduced the suggestions by saying “There are those who contend that…,” and was reportedly referencing an amicus brief written by a UCLA law professor.
The words were troubling nonetheless. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton, speaking to Politico after the hearing, said he “felt very concerned given the line of questioning and the tone when I heard Judge Scalia suggest that maybe blacks do better at schools” that are less advanced or rigorous. “I didn’t know if I was at the courtroom at the Supreme Court or at a Donald Trump rally.”