Clarence Thomas attacked his colleagues for saving a law aimed at desegregating America

Stephen Breyer and Clarence ThomasReuters/Larry DowningClarence Thomas

The Supreme Court saved a law Thursday aimed at preventing housing discrimination, and Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a scathing dissent calling out his liberal colleagues for their “audacity.”

In a 5-4 decision on Thursday, the Supreme Court’s majority found that the Fair Housing Act (FHA) prevents housing practices that unfairly impact minorities even if those practices are not intentionally discriminatory. Many cases brought under the FHA involve so-called disparate-impact claims, so a ruling against fair-housing advocates would have seriously hobbled the law.

Thomas — the court’s only African-American justice — wrote a separate dissent questioning the notion that the government should have a role in “racially balancing” America’s neighbourhoods. Thomas famously opposes affirmative action in college admissions, so it makes sense that he opposes efforts efforts at desegregation.

“This court has repeatedly reaffirmed that ‘racial balancing’ by state actors is ‘patently unconstitutional,’ even when it supposedly springs from good intentions,” Thomas wrote.

Thomas, one of the court’s conservative justices, also called out the liberal justices for assuming that “in the absence of discrimination, an institution’s racial makeup would mirror that of society.”

“[T]he absence of racial disparities in multi-ethnic societies has been the exception, not the rule,” Thomas wrote, adding that racial imbalances “do not always disfavor minorities.”

In a particularly blistering footnote, Thomas also insinuated that efforts to make neighbourhoods more diverse have backfired in the past.

“It takes considerable audacity for today’s majority to describe the origins of racial imbalances in housing … without acknowledging this court’s role in the development of this phenomenon,” Thomas wrote. “In the past, we have admitted that the sweeping desegregation remedies of the federal courts contributed to ‘white flight’ from our nation’s cities … in turn causing the racial imbalances that make it difficult to avoid disparate impact from housing development decisions.”

Thomas added: “Today’s majority, however, apparently is as content to rewrite history as it is to rewrite statutes.”

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