Conclusion—Justice Scalia and others: Did Justice Scalia make bigoted comments at the recent Supreme Court hearing concerning admission procedures at the University of Texas?
That's what some have said! Before we look at Scalia's remarks, let's review some ugly comments by Justice Alito at that very same hearing.
Alito was speaking with Gregory Garre, lead counsel for the University of Texas. When Reverend Sharpton spoke with Chris Hayes that night, he spilled with praise for Garre, a former solicitor general under President Bush:
SHARPTON (12/9/15): You had the former solicitor general to Bush, to George Bush, as the attorney for the University of Texas, saying how this program had added to a real problem of having low numbers of black enrollees, low diversity on the University of Texas campus, and it worked for the campus, period, it helped education for majority and minority students. This is a Bush solicitor general who was the lawyer for UT saying this...Sharpton was impressed by Garre. Concerning the wealth of horrid remarks which punctuated the hearing, consider one exchange Garre had with Justice Alito.
I thought that there was an excellent argument by the UT attorney. I never thought I'd be commending a Bush appointee, but he did an excellent job.
In the exchange, Garre was defending the university's "top ten percent" program. Under that program, Texas kids who graduate in the top ten percent of their high school class get admitted to UT-Austin.
Some people have criticized that part of the Texas plan, even including the highly suspect Justice Ginsburg. They say that the "top ten percent" plan encourages black high school students to remain in single-race schools. They also say that it means that kids from "lower performing" all-black schools are gaining admission in lieu of black kids from more challenging mixed-race schools who may be better prepared.
In the exchange shown below, Garre fights the "pernicious stereotype" which lies behind such presentations. Alito proceeds with his bigoted comments. We've made one minor unmarked deletion, which we'll restore below:
GARRE (12/9/15): It's kind of the assumption if a student, if a black student or a Hispanic student is admitted as part of the top ten percent plan, it has to be because that student didn't have to compete against very many whites and Asians in the high school class. It's a really pernicious stereotype.Disgusting, isn't it? In that exchange, you see the ugliness which was common at the hearing. Garre attacked a "really pernicious stereotype" about kids who graduate from all-black schools. In response, Alito insisted it wasn't a stereotype at all. According to Alito, the "stereotype" was, in fact, an accurate assessment of students admitted to UT-Austin "from the lower-performing, racially identifiable schools."
ALITO: It's not a stereotype at all. It's based on the undeniable fact about the manner in which the "top ten percent law" operates...The fact is, is that the way the "top ten percent law" admits minority students is by admitting those students from the lower-performing, racially identifiable schools.
In that exchange, you can see why Sharpton spilled with praise for the greatness of Garre. You can also see this—Alito could have been attacked for his bigotry that day, much like the bigot Scalia.
Except wait! We've made a minor mistake! We've accidentally switched the names of the players in that exchange! It was really Justice Alito who railed against that "pernicious stereotype." And it was really UT's own lead counsel, Garre, who sneered at the "lower-performing" all-black schools.
Below, you see the actual exchange, with the words "your honor" restored:
ALITO (12/9/15): It's kind of the assumption if a student, if a black student or a Hispanic student is admitted as part of the top ten percent plan, it has to be because that student didn't have to compete against very many whites and Asians in the high school class. It's a really pernicious stereotype.If Alito had said what Garre said, it would have been easy to pull his remarks out of context and attack him as a bigot. Instead, Sharpton went on corporate liberal TV and praised Garre for his greatness.
GARRE: It's not a stereotype at all, your honor. It's based on the undeniable fact about the manner in which the top ten percent law operates...The fact is, is that the way the top ten percent law admits minority students is by admitting those students from the lower-performing, racially identifiable schools.
That same night, our own Lawrence O'Donnell was saying that black kids could do perfectly well at Harvard, just so long as they took easy courses and chose their majors with care. A person could almost have thought that his remarks had the ring of a "pernicious stereotype" too. But no one challenged these remarks. Lawrence is part of our tribe!
Our basic point would be this. Especially at highly fraught times, it's easy to spot bigoted comments under every bed. That may be especially true in the context of a Supreme Court hearing, where time is extremely limited, interruptions are constant and a great deal of information is presupposed by the participants.
Did Scalia make a bigoted comment at the hearing that day? It all depends on how much you want to believe in bigots. More precisely, it all depends on how much you want to believe in the presence of bigots Over There, over in Their demonic tribe, where all the bad people are.
(We humans have always loved that story. How much do you want to believe it?)
Below, we show you the full text of Scalia's remarks. It's the passage which had Our Team reeling in the face of his bigotry.
In the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf criticized Scalia for these "careless" remarks, then criticized Scalia's critics for over-reacting to his remarks. We agree that Scalia could have been much more careful in the way he framed his comments.
On the other hand, Scalia was raising types of questions which are perfectly reasonable, unless you only care about wins in our dull-witted tribal wars. Here's the full text of what he said:
SCALIA (12/9/15): There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school, where they do well.Do we want to call Justice Scalia a bigot? If so, he gave us some ways to do that:
One of the briefs pointed out that, that most of the, most of the black scientists in this country don't come from schools like the University of Texas.
GARRE: So this court—
SCALIA: They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they're, that they're being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.
GARRE: This court—
SCALIA: I'm just not impressed by the fact that the University of Texas may have fewer. Maybe it ought to have fewer. And maybe some— You know, when you take more, the number of blacks, really competent blacks, admitted to lesser schools turns out to be less. And I don't think it stands to reason that it's a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible. I just don't think so.
To avoid being attacked for one's alleged bigotry, it would be better to avoid terms like "less advanced school" and "slower track school." In this case, it would have been better for Scalia to have referred to "excellent schools which are less competitive academically than the University of Texas' Austin campus, which is of course highly competitive."
It would also be better to draw a clear distinction between "some" and "all." (Jeffrey Toobin failed to do so on CNN that same night.) Taken literally, it sounds like Scalia is saying that all African-Americans are overmatched in the classroom at UT-Austin. Obviously, that isn't the case.
Most of the subsequent fainting-away turned on a reading in which Scalia was saying that no blacks should be admitted to Texas, since no black kids will ever do well there. Presumably, Scalia can't believe something so foolish. But then, can Reverend Sharpton really believe that Scalia was calling for a return to "separate but equal?" Because that's what the overwrought reverend said on that evening's All In.
(Two hours later, O'Donnell was saying that black kids can do well at Harvard if they just take easy courses. Because the cocksure cockatoo comes from our tribe, his remarks were judged A-OK. A lawyer from the Legal Defense Fund seemed to second his comments!)
Scalia drove the final nail through his own palm when he said that maybe UT-Austin should have fewer black students. That's always possible, of course—it all depends on the facts on the ground—although the current black enrollment, four percent, strikes us as remarkably low.
Here at THE HOWLER, we emerged from last week's non-discussion discussion with one basic question. Why in the world is black enrollment at Austin so low? Even with the administration looking for ways to enroll more black kids, enrollment remains at a very low number. Down in the Lone Star State, what occurs in the lives of our many good decent black kids that keeps them from attaining the skills that would get them admitted to Austin?
What goes on in the school lives of Texas kids? What goes on in their preschool lives? In their family lives?
We liberals rarely discuss such questions concerning the school lives of our good decent kids. You will watch MSNBC night after night, for month after month, and never see its millionaire hosts ask even one lone question about the school lives of our millions of good and decent and deserving black and Hispanic kids.
The topic never comes up. Instead, we play our Salem Village games. We get down on our hands and knees. Perhaps occasionally shrieking a bit, we look under every bed.
We know there are demons under those beds, and our word for demon is "bigot." We look away when Our Own Tribe seems to misspeak, exult as we go after Theirs.
Meanwhile, a lingering question remains—where will Mya Alford end up going to college? (Remember her, from the week's first two posts?) Will she get to go to college at all? What has her school life been like up to now? What could be done to make the school lives of such good decent kids happier and more productive?
Go ahead—turn on your TV machine thingy! As is made clear night after night, Rachel doesn't care about questions like that. Neither does blowhard O'Donnell.
Relentless silence, year after year, makes their disinterest abundantly clear. Within our vastly self-impressed tribe, no one actually cares about the school lives of black and Hispanic kids, except to the extent that their lives can be used to tag The Others as bigots.
We leave you with one final question. Why has the rest of our self-impressed tribe never quite noticed this problem?
The tale of the tape: You can listen to tape of Scalia's remarks through this link to C-Span.
You can still hear Scalia's remarks. At the start of the week, you could hear the full hearing at that link; we gave it a listen or three. Scalia's comments can still be heard at the start of the tape, but the rest of the tape went on the fritz on Wednesday.
We hope C-Span restores the tape. Before the tape went down, we transcribed Alito's attack on that stereotype right around the 0:44 mark. Scalia's tribally pleasing remarks occur at 1:08.