SCHOOL LIVES MATTER: Bigots under quite a few beds!


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...

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.
Sharpton was impressed by Garre. Concerning the wealth of horrid remarks which punctuated the hearing, consider one exchange Garre had with Justice Alito.

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.

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.
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."

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.
Do we want to call Justice Scalia a bigot? If so, he gave us some ways to do that:

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.


  1. As I pointed out on the prior post, at U of Texas, the average black student's SAT's are 390 points below the average white student. I've read elsewhere that blacks admitted under the "top 10%" program test below blacks admitted under straight AA. So, the difference for "top 10%" blacks must be larger than 390.

    BTW O'Donnell unknowingly espoused the mismatch theory, when he said that black kids can do well at Harvard if they just take easy courses. Research shows that aspiring scientists who are far below their school's average tend to get driven out of the more difficult STEM courses.

    Which is better -- a degree Black Studies from U. of Texas, Austin or a degree in Engineering from U. of Texas, San Antonio?

    1. David, because light slows down and bends as it passes a massive object, we get multiple images of a supernova, and we see it several times.

      So go back to school and get a degree in Black Hole Studies. :b

    2. Bright students tend to get pushed into the STEM disciplines by parents who want their kids to earn a good living. If a kid isn't interested in science but is basically just doing what parents want, they won't persist when they find out that STEM is difficult and boring for those without a real interest in science or technology. That's when they change their majors.

      Of course Black studies attracts them -- they are adolescents in the process of forming their adult identities and Black Studies is about identity. It isn't easier, it is more interesting. These students need counseling that asks them what they will do with their lives after college, how they want to make a living, what they think is a valuable contribution to humanity and a useful way to spend their time on the planet.

      For example, does being an actuary benefit anyone but the financial success of the insurance company and the ability of a person to support a family? What is the intrinsic interest in that field? Making money may seem less achievable to black students, so they may switch to less lucrative fields because their values are different than the white upper middle class kids being pushed by their parents to study business or accounting (because they can always get a job in such fields).

      If you hate engineering, a degree in it from any university is not valuable to you. It condemns you to a life of drudgery when you could be doing something you both enjoy and find important.

      No student is driven out of a STEM course except the ones who are insufficiently interested to persist when they encounter material that requires effort to learn. You can retake such courses repeatedly if you really want to be in that field. impCaesarAvg gives an example of how fascinating science can be. If it didn't resonate with you, there are many other majors. Denigrating the students who didn't study what you did is a stupid pastime that too many people engage in. Society needs all kinds of training and knowledge and fortunately kids come with a wide variety of abilities and interests.

    3. For example, does being an actuary benefit anyone but the financial success of the insurance company and the ability of a person to support a family? What is the intrinsic interest in that field?

      I'm obviously biased, but I think actuaries are important to everyone who buys insurance or who has a pension with a private company or a state or municipality. Insurance companies and pension funds take money today in exchange for a promise to pay certain benefits in the future. It's vital to everyone, including the customrer, that the insurance company have sufficient assets when it comes time to pay benefits. The actuary's job is to tell the company now how much they need to set aside for future claims.

      I'd like to say that actuaries are important to Medicare and Social Security and federal pensions. They would be important if the federal government paid attention to them.

    4. Insurance is a subfield of the gambling industry. Hard to build that into any kind of public service. You cannot borrow on the cache of social security, medicare and pensions when you steadfastly oppose such giveaways, as a card-carrying conservative. You also gloss the line between actual insurance and contribution-based programs that are NOT insurance.

      It is thanks to our government that insurance companies are required to carry sufficient reserves to pay out during natural disasters. This only happened after several went belly up following substantial hurricanes, like Andrew in Florida. The State of California offers its own program because no private insurance could withstand the payouts that would occur after a large earthquake that is CERTAIN to occur at some point. Private insurance just nibbles at the edges, gambling that people won't have the costly occurrences of fire and car accident that occur with probabilistic frequency. Hard to cast that as a noble occupation when what you're mostly doing is helping vultures cast their bets more wisely.

    5. "Insurance is a subfield of the gambling industry."

      You're an idiot. Even though you are arguing against David in Cal, you are the idiot here.

      Sorry, but saying insurance is "no kind of public service" marks you as a complete fool.

  2. Does Scalia want to return to "separate but equal"? Whether he does or not, a large number of people in this country want to maintain the actual situation which existed 60 years ago and which exists now, which is separate and unequal. Is Scalia too stupid to know that his remarks and judicial opinions support those who want to maintain the unequal system? I don't believe it.

    Nationally prominent conservatives claim to have high principles of "equal opportunity" which somehow is able to come about without federal government interference, but their actions seldom tend to lead to equality and in practice usually support blatant racism.

  3. Here are some reasons why African American students might choose not to attend UT Austin despite being admitted:

    1. Flagship schools cost more because they charge higher tuition and because they may be further from home requiring higher transportation and living expenses. That is a burden on lower income families, especially if it means loss of a child's earning ability or help around the home.

    2. With only 4% spread across all the majors in the school, there are unlikely to be sufficient numbers of African American students to form friendship and support networks for individual students. They will not feel comfortable there and thus will go where they can form friendships and be able to relax. In more integrated areas, students of all races interact and do become friends but that is unlikely where there is strong segregation at the high school level.

    3. There is greater expectation of fair treatment when a higher proportion of faculty and staff are minority. There are fewer African American faculty at these flagship campuses, thus fewer mentors and role models and less of a feeling of trust that black students will be valued and treated fairly. Whether realistic or not, this matters to students.

    Somerby asks what will happen to Mya. It would be nice if her school were better, but she does have other resources for learning chemistry. She can go online and visit Khan Academy or take introductory chemistry via podcast in ITunes, from some of the best professors in the country. She can take a night class at a local community college or audit chemistry classes at the nearest state college. She can read chemistry books and seek out mentoring from an adult with a chemistry background, either online or through service groups like Rotary, Elks or even the local library or Mensa chapter. If she is serious about chemistry, she can postpone taking it in high school and instead work on her math proficiency. Again, places like or Khan Academy will let her do that at her own pace, online. All it takes is motivation and persistence. Kids with ability but in the wrong circumstances are able to find their way with effort. It is mediocre kids who might do very well in an enriched environment, who fall by the wayside in poor schools, because they cannot take advantage of outside resources and need to be pushed to develop their potential. I doubt those kids belong at UT Austin, but they don't deserve to be neglected either. As Somerby points out, they are the majority of both white and black kids.

    I think Somerby is suggesting that we focus less on bigotry and more on eliminating the benign neglect that afflicts our society with respect to education.

    1. Excellent comment, Anon 4:22. I know your point #2 is based on a popular theory, but I wonder whether that theory is valid? Is there evidence that blacks (or other minorities) are more successful in college when they're surrounded by large numbers of like minorities?

    2. My point was that they don't feel comfortable without friends and support network (as is true for people of all races) and thus choose to go elsewhere, not that they are "less successful."

      In practice, students who form study groups and have support do better -- yes, there are studies showing that. If you have greater difficulty finding inclusion, it stands to reason it would affect academic performance. That is the main reason for affinity groups and racial identity student centers on largely white campuses. They are a place for minority kids to find each other, form friendships and support groups and have the same opportunity to benefit from social networking as white kids have (simply because there are many more white kids available to each white student to form such relationships).

    3. Choice is a two-way street. The universities choose the students they want to admit and the students who are admitted choose where they ultimately want to attend. This discussion seems to take it for granted that any black student admitted to a top school would automatically want to go there. That isn't the case.

      For families without a history of college education, there is less knowledge about which are the better schools and which lesser. High schools may not have good guidance about which schools to apply to, much less attend.

      Degrees have different worth in the job market. A degree from UT Austin may be better for opening doors to jobs and grad school, than a degree from a state university or less competitive college, because of the reputation of the school. Few employers ever look at transcripts. A student who squeaks by with C's and D's at a top school may benefit more from the reputation of that school than a student with A's and B's at a lesser school. The exception is when being admitted to grad school -- there grades count and reputation of the school counts too. Ideally you want the best possible grades from the best possibly school to get into the most highly regarded grad program -- because that will make it most likely you will get hired after graduation and determine your salary in certain fields. African American kids are less likely to be told these things by guidance counselors and their parents are less likely to know them. That's why encouragement and even affirmative action from the top schools are needed -- to counteract the missed opportunity due to simple lack of understanding about how academia and the job market work in professional fields. It is our social responsibility to open those doors -- even to students who don't know they should be seeking admission to them.

      I think it is grossly unfair to pretend that a separate but unequal secondary track will provide the same opportunities down the road -- independent of student effort and accomplishment. It just isn't true.

    4. Thanks for your response, Anon 4:52 PM. I don't dispute what you said, but I do find it sad. The reasoning takes it for granted that friendships, support groups and social networking will be substantially race-based. I guess it's true that white social groups are less likely to include blacks and vice versa. I had hoped that race wouldn't play so large a part for students thrown together.

    5. Why should students be any different than anyone else in our society?

    6. "thrown together."

      You're pathetic.

  4. A propos of an earlier post, the New York Times Public Editor has an excellent article about the screwup regarding Tashfeen Malik's supposed public messages about jihad on Facebook. See

    The article explains how the screwup occurred. The reporters' naivety would be funny if the false report didn't have serious consequences:

    “Our sources misunderstood how social media works and we didn’t push hard enough,” said [executive editor Dean] Baquet, who read the article before publication. He said those sources apparently did not know the difference between public and private messages on social-media platforms.

    1. Isn't that explanation a little hard to believe?

  5. Fact checking the debate, the statements about Clinton always say "That's correct but..." implying that she too is lying when she generally isn't.

    The "but" leads to some statistic they think she should have mentioned but didn't, as if she is obligated to present the worst picture of her performance, not the best, as people usually do. Where is it written that you are lying if you don't focus on the worst descriptions?

    More Clinton rules.

  6. Want to read some racial stereotyping?

    "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?"

    Sorry Somerby, you may think it is all a problem of poor skill acquisition by black students which keeps them from being admitted.

    Did it ever occur to you that, with 75% of the freshman class being admitted automatically based on class rank, that the University of Texas cannot ATTRACT those black students who are already skilled enough to be admitted?


    1. @5:00 said the same thing without calling Somerby a bigot. Do you think the name calling helps anything?

    2. No. @ 5:00 basically said qualified blacks may not know it is in their interest to attend UT-Austin.

      Somerby said many good decent black kids cannot obtain the skills to attend UT-Austin. He ignores the fact that same thing can be said about white kids, which is why one of them sued.

      He wonders what is wrong that holds black kids back. It doesn't occur to him that there are many qualified blacks who don't attend because, despite its reputation as the best academic school in Texas, there is another reputation associated with the place in the minds of many qualified blacks, who have their pick of other, better, universities.

      Bob is not interested in black kids. He is interested in using them as a tool to browbeat white liberal adults. He is a bigot.

    3. I doubt it's UT- Austin's reputation for being inhospitable to blacks that's keeping "many qualified blacks" from attending that school. My guess would be that blacks who, based solely on their academic records, would be admitted to that public institution instead avail themselves of the opportunity to go to schools that are even more prestigious than UT-Austin and which are out recruiting the most academically accomplished blacks nation-wide.

      Now that is just my guess, but I doubt anyone can cite a study that suggests qualified blacks, at least not the in-state ones, aren't attending UT- Austin because of its reputation for being a hostile place for blacks to go to school.

    4. I think you are wrong about that, CMike. I think members of minority groups do consider the climate for them on campuses. Maybe they shouldn't because it is not what is going to matter in the long run, but I think they do.

      Students use many odd choice factors in deciding where to go. For example, whether the school has a winning Division I football team, despite being non-players themselves. They go where their friends are going or where people were nice to them during campus visits.

    5. "Somerby, you may think it is all a problem of poor skill acquisition by black students"

      Arguing with a someone who is so willing to mischaracterize another's position is futile. TEX is simply a horrible person.

    6. Liver, what has occurred in your life that keeps you from attaining the skills that would allow you to read clear meaning from a blogger?

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