Scalia: Black Students Don’t Need Affirmative Action Because They Benefit From A ‘Slower Track’

CREDIT: Rogelio V. Solis, AP

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia jokes about his experiences as a law student at a program with fellow Justice Elena Kagan, Monday, Dec. 15, 2014 at the University of Mississippi.

During oral arguments on a case that may eliminate race conscious affirmative action, Justice Antonin Scalia said that “most of the black scientists in this country do not come from the most advanced schools” and added that black students do better in a “slower track.”

Scalia also said students of color are being “pushed into schools that are too advanced for them” due to race conscious affirmative action policies.

Scalia was referring to an amicus brief filed in the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case, which involves a white woman who was denied admission to the university and claims that the college’s affirmative action policy is responsible. The specific brief in question was written by a conservative lawyer, Gail Heriot, who has previously argued against anti-discrimination policies in her position at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

In fact, many black scientists do come from prestigious schools. The National Science Foundation has more information on the number of black science and engineering graduates from top baccalaureate-origin institutions here.

Scalia is likely referring to a “slower track” because opponents of race conscious affirmative action policies often say that students of color are admitted into selective colleges they shouldn’t be attending — claiming they are “mismatched” and will eventually falter academically.

Stuart Taylor, the co-author of Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It, relied on this theory during a debate on affirmative action hosted by Intelligence Squared last week. Taylor claimed that affirmative action sets up black students to fail.

“Most lose self-confidence, become demoralized, avoid or drop out of the toughest courses, science, math, engineering, premed, courses that lead to some of the most desirable careers,” Taylor said. “In fact, most recipients of racial preferences we contend would be better off, certainly academically, if they attended colleges for which they’re well qualified.”

However, some of the studies cited by Taylor and other opponents of affirmative action have been challenged. According to one 2014 paper, key mismatch research includes “questionable claims and methodological choices” and “lacks empirical support.” The authors wrote that social science research actually shows the opposite is more likely to be the case, and that students in underrepresented minority groups tend to do better if they attend the most selective colleges that will admit them.

During oral arguments, the attorney arguing for the University of Texas made the point that it is unacceptable to have a system where minorities go to separate and inferior schools. “Now is not the time and this is not the case to roll back student body diversity in America,” he said.