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Does the Belief of Racial Superiority Still Linger in the Supreme Court?

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The underside of American history, as it relates to race relations, includes discourse regarding the alleged mental inferiority of people of African descent. During slavery, white belief that transplanted Africans came from savage, uncivilized, societies helped soothe the consciences of those participating in this sordid business enterprise.

After slavery’s end, during the period of American apartheid, southern school districts, motivated by similar negative attitudes about African American intellectual capabilities, routinely funded African American schools at levels lower than white schools.

Even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, notions of African American mental inferiority continued. During the last decades of the twentieth century, such white academics as Arthur Jensen, Richard J. Herrnstein, and Charles Murray published works that purported to demonstrate that, on a genetic level, people of African descent are less intelligent than those of European descent.

In the early twenty-first century, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has emerged as a present-day proponent of this long-standing mindset. During December 9, 2015 oral arguments in a case related to race-based admissions at the University of Texas, Scalia expressed his doubt about the usefulness of educational Affirmative Action programs.

If judicial decisions are supposed to be based upon an impartial examination of the evidence, Justice Scalia’s continued participation in deliberations regarding Fisher v. University of Texas would make a mockery of the process.      

Robert E. Weems Jr. is the Willard W. Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History at Wichita State University.