As I pointed out in last week's column, Clarence Thomas has no compunction about stretching the truth or distorting reality. He recently compared his Supreme Court colleagues who declared that it was permissible to take race into consideration when making pupil assignments in the Seattle and Louisville-area school districts to ardent segregationists who opposed the 1954 and 1955 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decisions.
In his 36-page concurring opinion in which the 5-4 conservative majority outlawed such race-conscious considerations, Thomas expressed some curious views on integration and the limited instances in which he believes race-conscious remedies can be constitutionally justified.
Quoting himself more than 15 times — an average of almost once every other page — Thomas dismisses a body of scholarly evidence on the value of integration to both Blacks and Whites, preferring instead to cite the agenda-driven views of such well-known conservatives as Thomas Sowell and Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom.
Taking that approach, perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that he wrote, "As a general rule, all race-based government decision-making – regardless of context – is unconstitutional." He argued, "This Court has carved out a narrow exception to that general rule for cases in which a school district has a 'history of maintaining two sets of schools in a single school system deliberately operated to carry out a government policy to separate pupils in schools solely on the basis of race.'"
Thomas was quoting the 1971 Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education ruling. However, he conveniently ignores this section of that same majority opinion:
"School authorities are traditionally charged with broad power to formulate and implement educational policy and might conclude, for example, that in order to prepare students to live in a pluralistic society each school should have a prescribed ratio of Negro to white students reflecting the proportion for the district as a whole. To do this as an educational policy is within the broad discretionary power of school authorities."
Thomas takes the position that any racial separation caused by anything other than de jure segregation — a situation that he calls racial balancing — is beyond the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
"Racial imbalance is the failure of a school district's individual schools to match or approximate the demographic makeup of the student population at large," Thomas wrote. "… Racial imbalance is not segregation. Although presently observed racial imbalance might result from de jure segregation, racial imbalance can also result from any number of innocent private decisions, including voluntary housing choices."
What can schools do about segregated housing patterns and de facto segregation? In Thomas' view, nothing.
"This court does not sit to 'create a society that includes all Americans' or to solve the problems of 'troubled inner city schooling,'" Thomas declared. "We are not social engineers."
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who voted with Thomas in the school cases, does not share his narrow view. He wrote, "It is permissible to consider the racial makeup of schools and to adopt general policies to encourage a diverse student body, one aspect of which is its racial composition."
In questioning the value of school desegregation, Thomas wrote, "In reality, it is far from apparent that coerced racial mixing has any educational benefits, much less that integration is necessary to Black achievement."
Thomas dismissed the notion that interaction between Blacks and Whites is more likely to occur in an integrated setting. He said, "There is no guarantee, however, that students of different races in the same school will actually spend time with one another … Simply putting students together under the same roof does not necessarily mean that the students will learn together or even interact. Furthermore, it is unclear whether increased interracial contact improves racial attitudes and relations."
Many scholars disagree.
In one friend-of-the-court brief, 553 social scientists stated: "Racially integrated schools prepare students to be effective citizens in our pluralistic society, further social cohesion, and reinforce democratic values. They promote cross-racial understanding, reduce prejudice, improve critical thinking skills and academic achievement, and enhance life opportunities for students of all races. Communities also benefit from a potential workforce that is better prepared for a global economy, reduced residential segregation, and increased parental involvement in schools — all of which increase the stability of communities."
It is ironic that Thomas would rule out the use of race in all but the most extreme circumstances when he has advanced all the way to the Supreme Court largely because of his race.
In their book, "Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas," Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher observe: "Every Thomas employer, from Danforth, who gave him his first job, to President George H.W. Bush, who nominated him to the Supreme Court, chose Thomas at least partly because he is Black. Race is a central fact of his meteoric rise, and Thomas has alternately denied it and resented it — all the way to the top."
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach.