The Supremes were hearing oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas You’ll recall that Abigail Fisher, a white lady, sued the University of Texas, claiming she wasn’t admitted in 2008 because of affirmative action.
If you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, didn’t the Supremes hear that case already?” you’re right, they did, back in 2012. On that occasion the Supremes sent the case back to the Circuit Court, the Circuit Court again found for the University, Ms Fisher again appealed their decision, so here we are again.
What caused the outrage was some comments made during these oral arguments. Here’s what the man said:
There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to … get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school … a slower-track school where they do well. One of … the briefs pointed out that … most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re … being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them. I’m just not impressed by the fact that the University of Texas may have fewer (black students). Maybe it ought to have fewer.
Scalia is likely working here from the 2012 book Mismatch by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, which argued that affirmative action just puts blacks into college programs they can’t handle, as evidenced by their high dropout rates and their high failure rate on post-college professional tests like the bar exam.
The book was well reviewed and its ideas are now pretty mainstream. You’d never know that from the reaction to Scalia’s mild remarks. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid went straight to the point, calling Justice Scalia “racist” on the floor of the United States Senate. Quote from him:
The idea that African-American students are somehow inherently intellectually inferior from other students is despicable. It’s a throwback … to a time that America left behind a half a century ago.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus said Scalia’s comments were “disgusting, inaccurate and insulting to African Americans. Thousands of black Americans have excelled in top-tier universities.” That of course is neither here nor there since Scalia was speaking in generalities, as were the authors of Mismatch.
The White House itself chimed in. Presidential spokesman Josh Earnest said during a briefing that Obama’s own education — he graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School — is an example that refutes Scalia. Of course it doesn’t, as again Scalia was addressing generalities.
Nobody denies that there are some extremely intelligent blacks. There just aren’t enough to fill up all the affirmative-action slots at the best schools. The best schools make up the difference by putting less smart blacks in the vacant slots.
This has two bad consequences, according to the Mismatch argument. First, those less-smart blacks are out of their depth. Hence the high dropout rates. Hence also, many of us think, all the recent ructions on our campuses, with blacks complaining about lack of respect. They know they’re out of their depth and it makes them first uncomfortable, then resentful.
Second, those less-smart blacks sucked up by the top schools are now not available to the second-rank schools, who have to reach further down the ability scale to fill their affirmative-action slots … And so on in a cascade of mismatching all the way down the educational scale.
It’s all very plausible, and Scalia’s remarks show he’s well-informed and up-to-date on the arguments about affirmative action … which you’d want a Supreme Court Justice to be when hearing a case about the topic.
I note by the way that the Mismatch theory can be put forward without any appeal to race realism. Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor in fact did not rest their arguments on race realism. They observed all the genteel proprieties, blaming black underperformance on “failing schools” and so on: You know, those schools whose bricks and mortar and asphalt exude invisible vapors that enstupidate the students.
Whether Justice Scalia is a race realist I can’t say. The point is that he doesn’t need to be to put forward the Mismatch argument. He could believe that the poor academic performance of blacks is due to absent fathers, or poverty, or the legacy of slavery, or invisible vapors, or witchcraft; and still arrive at Mismatch theory.
Still, as always in stories like this, I end up reflecting wistfully on how much more honest, more straightforward our public discourse would be, and what a wealth of intellectual effort — not to mention actual dollar wealth — would be saved, if race differences were openly acknowledged.
Homo sapiens, like any other widely-distributed species, comes in regional variants, that display different statistical profiles on all heritable traits. That includes traits of behavior, intelligence, and personality, all known to be heritable. Get over it!