Justice Thomas quotes the Iowa Supreme Court on race and the Constitution

By: Administrator on June 24th, 2013

By Ryan Koopmans

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision on race-based admissions in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.  The Court reversed the Fifth Circuit (which said that the University of Texas’s affirmative-action practices are okay) and sent the case back to to the lower court for a redo under the proper standard.  Full coverage of the opinion is available at SCOTUSblog, but our readers might be particularly interested in Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion.  He thinks “that a State’s use of race in higher education admissions decisions is categorically prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause,” and in support of that opinion Justice Thomas said this:

My view of the Constitution is the one advanced by the plaintiffs in Brown: “[N]o State has any authority under the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to use race as a factor in affording educational opportunities among its citizens.” Tr. of Oral Arg. in Brown v. Board of Education, O. T. 1952, No. 8, p. 7; see also Juris. Statement in Davis v. School Bd. of Prince Edward Cty.,O. T. 1952, No. 191, p. 8 (“[W]e take the unqualified position that the Fourteenth Amendment has totally stripped the state of power to make race and color the basis for governmental action”); Brief for Appellants in Brown v. Board of Education, O. T. 1952, No. 8, p. 5 (“The Fourteenth Amendment precludes a state from imposing distinctions or classifications based upon race and color alone”); Brief for Appellants in Nos. 1, 2, and 4, and for Respondents in No. 10 on Reargument in Brown v. Board of Education, O. T. 1953, p. 65 (“That the Constitution is color blind is our dedicated belief ”). The Constitution does not pander to faddish theories about whether race mixing is in the public interest. The Equal Protection Clause strips States of all authority to use race as a factor in providing education. All applicants must be treated equally under the law, and no benefit in the eye of the beholder can justify racial discrimination.

This principle is neither new nor difficult to understand. In 1868, decades before Plessy, the Iowa Supreme Court held that schools may not discriminate against applicants based on their skin color. In Clark v. Board of Directors, 24 Iowa 266 (1868), a school denied admission to a student because she was black, and “public sentiment [was] opposed to the intermingling of white and colored children in the same schools.” Id., at 269. The Iowa Supreme Court rejected that flimsy justification, holding that “all the youths are equal before the law, and there is no discretion vested in the board . . . or elsewhere, to interfere with or disturb that equality.” Id., at 277. “For the courts to sustain a board of school directors . . . in limiting the rights and privileges of persons by reason of their [race], would be to sanction a plain violation of the spirit of our laws not only, but would tend to perpetuate the national differences of our people and stimulate a constant strife, if not a war of races.” Id., at 276. This simple, yet fundamental, truth was lost on the Court in Plessy and Grutter.

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On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
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