Supreme Court Justices Sotomayor, Thomas Read Affirmative Action Opinions from the Bench in Rare Move

Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas read their conflicting opinions on affirmative action Thursday from the bench in a rare instance only seen when justices want to call particular attention to their position. 

Thomas read his position, concurring with the opinion of the Court’s Thursday ruling against affirmative action, while Sotomayor read her own dissenting opinion. 

Thomas declared his opinion, reading, “Today, and despite a lengthy interregnum, the Constitution prevails.”

The 75-year-old justice lauded the majority decision that overturned decades of the U.S. judicial system that allowed universities and colleges to admit or reject applicants based on their race but also offered his own input. 

“I write separately to offer an originalist defense of the colorblind Constitution; to explain further the flaw of the Court’s Grutter jurisprudence; to clarify that all forms of discrimination based on race — including so-called affirmative action — are prohibited under the Constitution; and to emphasize the pernicious effects of all such discrimination.”

In the meantime, Sotomayor read her dissent against the majority opinion, which was joined by both of the other liberal justices, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson. 

“The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment enshrines a guarantee of racial equality,” began Sotomayor. “The Court long ago concluded that this guarantee can be enforced through race-conscious means in a society that is not, and has never been, colorblind.”

“Today, this Court stands in the way and rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress. It holds that race can no longer be used in a limited way in college admissions to achieve such critical benefits. In so holding, the Court cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter.”

The ruling was split along traditional lines

On Thursday, the 6-3 ruling was split along traditional lines. Students for Fair Admissions, a student activist group, brought cases against the University of North Carolina and Harvard. The group initially sued Harvard College in 2014, violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which “prohibits discrimination on the race, color, or national origin or in any program or activity that receives Federal funds or other Federal financial assistance.”

The complaint against Harvard alleges that the school’s practices penalized Asian American students and that they didn’t employ race-neutral practices. The case against the University of North Carolina raised the issue of whether the university could reject the use of non-race-based practices without showing they would negatively impact the benefits gained from campus diversity or bring down the school’s academic quality. 

The Court ruled in favor of Students for Fair Admissions in both cases.