How Clarence Thomas Grew To Hate Affirmative Action

Clarence ThomasAssociated PressClarence Thomas in his high school yearbook photo from 1959.

The U.S. Supreme Court
will hear arguments Tuesdayin a fight over Michigan’s ban on the use of race as a factor in college admissions, and the court’s fiercest opponent of affirmative action probably won’t say a word.

Clarence Thomas — who’s famously quiet during oral arguments — has written that affirmative action amounts to racial discrimination and is every bit as wrong as segregation or slavery.

Thomas graduated from Yale Law School, and in 2007 he attacked his alma mater’s affirmative action policies in his memoir and in an interview with ABC News. Thomas argued that what he called the stigmatizing effects of affirmative action put him at a huge disadvantage when he was trying to find work as a lawyer.

Thomas said he went on interviews with one “high-priced lawyer” after another who didn’t take him seriously because they thought he got special treatment.

“Many asked pointed questions, unsubtly suggesting they doubted I was as smart as my grades indicated,” Thomas told ABC News.

Affirmative action also made him miserable while he was actually attending the law school, Thomas writes in his book, according to the Yale Daily News.

“At least southerners were up front about their bigotry: You knew exactly where they were coming from,” he says in the book. “Not so the paternalistic big-city whites who offered you a helping hand so long as you were careful to agree with them, but slapped you down if you started acting as if you didn’t know your place.”

Thomas also famously appraised his law degree as being worth 15 cents.

While there’s evidence Thomas began to mend his relationship with Yale itself, it’s pretty clear which side Clarence Thomas will come down on in the affirmative action case to be decided this term.

In a separate affirmative action case last term, Clarence Thomas wrote that “racial engineering does in fact have insidious consequences.” That case involved a challenge to the University of Texas’ affirmative action program, which the Supreme Court sent back to a lower court.

This latest case involving Michigan will determine whether states can ban affirmative action. Several states including Washington and California already have such bans in place.

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