Every year, during the last few days of June, I sit at my computer and wait impatiently for the most important Supreme Court decisions to be announced.
Last year, the picnic brought the Dobbs decision, which ended legalized abortion, so it seemed like anything else would be a let-down.
Boy was I wrong. Last week, the Supreme Court announced that giving someone an advantage because of their race was illegal, unconstitutional and dead wrong.
If you thought that this was already the law of the land, because of the 13th Amendment and the abolition of Jim Crow and the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, you probably missed the last 50 or so years where discrimination was regularly practiced. They called it “affirmative action,” and provided some eloquent but specious arguments about how we still needed to level a playing field that was gutted with injustice.
The court, in a 6-3 majority decision, ruled that using race as a consideration in college admissions is illegal.
The beauty, and purity of that statement is self-evident: no one should be given advantage on account of something they cannot control.
Conversely, no one should be punished for that same reason.
The mere idea that race has been used as a “corrector’ for decades is anathema to the ideals of the freedom riders and civil rights workers who died in their service.
Of course, not everyone agrees with that interpretation of the case.
Moments after the decision was announced, these were the sort of headlines that screamed with searing messages across the internet: “Supreme Court Guts Affirmative Action” (CNN), “Supreme Court Outlaws Affirmative Action” (NY Post), “Affirmative Action Ruling Will Lead to Segregated Higher Ed” (The Hill), “Harvard Students Devastated After Supreme Court Affirmative Action Ruling” (NBC News), “Justice Jackson Rips Supreme Court’s ‘Ostrich-like’ Logic on Affirmative Action” (The Hill), and my favorite of all “Clarence Thomas Attacks Ketanji Brown Jackson Over Affirmative Action” (Newsweek).
That last headline was attached to an article that reflected a philosophy I have held for many years, and one that has finally gained some traction with a high court that now has a conservative majority courageous enough to finally tell the emperor that he has no clothes.
Using the term “affirmative action” allowed people to believe that what was being done was not a negative form of discrimination but, rather, a positive and “affirmative” attempt at restorative justice.
In her dissent, Justice Jackson lamented the historical racism that left many students of color lagging behind and referenced Frederick Douglas, Justice Harlan and the “pernicious” inequities that have made it difficult for Black people to stand on their own two feet.
Justice Thomas pointed out the flaws in Justice Jackson’s backward-looking dissent, writing that “As she sees things, we are all inexorably trapped in a fundamentally racist society, with the original sin of slavery and the historical subjugation of black Americans still determining our lives today.”
The tension between the two Black justices delineates in the clearest of terms the divide in this country between those who see race-based decisions as wrong regardless of who is being favored, and those who think that it is OK to continue, decades on, to favor most minorities — with the exception of Asian Americans — over whites in order to continue to level a playing field that has given us a Black president, vice president, senators, Oscar winners, astrophysicists, Nobel laureates, Olympians, teachers, and at last count, three Supreme Court justices.
The fact that these things have happened gives the lie to the argument that we are still and forever a hopelessly racist society where the color of our skin must be used to measure the content of our character.
This is not to say that racism has been conquered.
It exists, it is blatant, and it will never fully disappear from the human psyche because we are imperfect creatures.
What has been happening, though, is that society has continued to evolve to the point where we no longer automatically look at the color of someone’s skin or the particular cadence of their accent to classify people.
We no longer assess merit, and virtue, based on things we cannot control.
And when we do, there are laws against that, including the most important law of all: the Constitution.
But you know what the law cannot and should not do?
It cannot use a form of discrimination against one group to advance a false narrative that another group is failing because of historical persecution.
This is unfair, and this is something that the Supreme Court had the courage to finally recognize.
And how fitting that they did so only days before we commemorate the flawed but fierce courage of our Founders, who believed that at least in an aspirational way, all men are created equal.
Perhaps we are inching closer to believing that, ourselves.
Copyright 2023 Christine Flowers, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at [email protected].