Ethics Alarms recently discussed the unfair attacks on Justice Scalia, now even extending to calls for his resignation, for his legitimate question in oral argument about whether black students accepted into elite schools via affirmative action might be better off being able to excel in less competitive institutions. The question was not racist, reflecting common sense, nor was it necessarily Scalia’s position, as it was an argument raised in one of the briefs on the case. Never mind: much of the media still characterizes the query as outrageous, and social justice warriors are trying to make the episode out to be smoking gun evidence of Supreme Court bias in anticipation of a negative ruling in the case regarding affirmative action.
As the Daily Beast reveals, however, there is a much better explanation than racism for why Scalia might find the argument powerfully supported by the research of Richard Stander and Stuart Taylor in their book “Mismatch” compelling. Young Nino Scalia was a star in elementary school, but failed the entrance exam for the Jesuit High School in Manhattan. His father told him that he might ultimately be better off at a less competitive school where he could shine, and that’s what happened. Scalia later graduated first in his class at a less prestigious high school. Then he was rejected again when he applied to Princeton University. Again he took a step down, attended Georgetown University instead, and was first in his class.
Thus it is reasonable to surmise that Justice Scalia may well have been applying his own experience to that of the affirmative action black admittees. Come to think of it, I was told the same thing when I was applying to college. I was really anxious about the college selection process for some reason, so my parents had me tested and interviewed by a psychologist. He told my parents that I would be happier and more successful in a second tier school, a “big fish in a little pond,” he said, because I liked being a leader and might be intimidated or discouraged in a super-competitive environment where there were lots of smarter, ambitious students around.
Oddly, my parents didn’t take this as a slur on Greek-Americans.
I ignored the advice, by the way, and didn’t regret it. You could say I was admitted to college with the help of a thumb on the scales, since children of alums–my dad went the same college on the G.I. bill—get preference in the final admissions calculations. And who knows? Maybe if I had gone to one of the small liberal arts colleges that quack recommended, I’d be on the Supreme Court today.
Pointer: ABA Journal