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Interview from 60 Minutes with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. This video sheds light on the issue of affirmative action, a policy central to the debate about rights in the United States. It also provides insight into the politics associated with the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court justices.  At the time, Thomas had just published an autobiographical book, My Grandfather’s Son, about his growing up dirt poor in the south, how his grandparents and especially his grandfather influenced him as a child and his education and career path to the Supreme Court.  

The paper assignment based on the interview and other parts of the reading should be 5 pages ATLEAST, double spaced with 12 font and have about 300 words per page. It should be prepared in Word.  The paper should provide a detailed summary of the interview and a discussion about what you have learned about affirmative action policies as it relates to the process of nominating and confirming Supreme Court justices. Use details from the interview in your paper. What is the “elephant in the room”, as Thomas describes it to Steve Kroft?  What do you make of the episode involving Anita Hill and Thomas’ comment to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the proceedings were a “high tech lynching of an uppity black who deigns to think for himself”?   Why did he say that?

Your paper should also discuss Grutter v. Bollinger and especially what Thomas wrote in his dissent Grutter v. Bollinger examined the constitutionality of the affirmative action admissions policy used by the University of Michigan Law School. The case raised the question of whether it was permissible for the law school to use race as a factor in its selection process. Those opposed to such affirmative action policies argued that, as Justice Harlan wrote in dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson (the 1896 case we examined earlier in the course where the Court created the “separate but equal” doctrine), the Constitution should be “color blind”. In other words, opponents argue that to give preference to African American students (or women in the Grutter case) is no more constitutional than were the policies using race in the past to segregate minorities in schools etc. In effect, those opposed to affirmative action argue that race should not be a factor at all in university admissions policies. In effect, this was the argument in  Fisher v. Texas decided in June 2013.  In Fisher, the Supreme Court avoided having to re-examine the affirmative action issue raised in Grutter by focusing instead on the equal protection standard to be applied in such issues and sending the case back to the lower courts for further review.  In 2016 the Supreme Court again ruled Fisher v. Texas this time upholding the University of Texas’ use of race in its admissions policy.  In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that Michigan could amend its state constitution by banning affirmative action admission policies in its state universities (Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action).

Readings:

Additional Material:

  • Actual link to Grutter v. Bollinger; It will help to examine the case through this link paying particular attention to Justice O’Connor’s opinion of the court and Justice Thomas’ dissent. The link under Reading leads to Oyez.org where you can listen to the oral arguments presented by the attorneys who argued the case before the Supreme Court. You can also listen to the questions posed to the attorneys by the justices as well as their interactions over the issues raised in the case. Oyez is a great resource for this, and other Supreme Court cases, and I placed it here so you can obtain a deeper understanding of the issues relating to affirmative action in higher education. Another recent case dealing with affirmative action in higher education, Fisher v. Texas, was decided by the Supreme Court in 2013.  The Michigan affirmative action debate was addressed again by the Supreme Court in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action (2014). For a discussion about the Schuette case see
  • http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/23/us/supreme-court-michigan-affirmative-action-ban.html?_r=0 
  • Schuette is an important case since the Supreme Court upheld a Michigan state constitutional amendment banning the use of affirmative action in the admissions policies of public state universities.

 

 

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