Justice Scalia: Talent is Universal, but Opportunity Is Not

For generations Americans of all races and socio-economic status have been taught that America was the land of opportunity and the great equalizer was the ability to achieve a good education. Conversely, Black Americans have been lectured to for generations that we don't respect education and that if we would just work hard, get a good education and stay out of trouble the negative effects from racism would not matter.

Many of us have done that. We've gone to college, found successful careers and made good lives for ourselves and our families. But now a sitting Supreme Court Justice has inferred to the world that black students are not as smart or as advanced as white students. Justice Scalia went as far as to say that maybe we would be better off at less rigorous schools, and that he thinks maybe fewer of us should go to schools such as the University of Texas.

Some commentators say that you were just playing devil's advocate and exposing one side's argument in an intellectually honest debate, but that is nothing more than an excuse for your uninformed remarks. You instead gave credence to an ideology of racism and white supremacy.

Would you have asked if it were true that whites were inherently unequal and should go to slower paced schools? Of course you wouldn't have, because that is not something that has ever been projected on Caucasians, like your inferiority argument has been attached to blacks since the days of slavery.

For those that don't support Affirmative Action, there are compelling arguments that you could have made against it that do not rely on the premise of the lack of academic ability by black students. Instead you chose to marginalize every educated black person in this country by espousing the idea that we are less qualified and should have attended lesser schools. Our contribution to this country and to the educational environment has no less value than that of our white counterparts, but for some reason you saw fit to undermine what we have achieved or will achieve in the future.

Over the last few decades, education has become more expensive and less accessible especially for lower income people who use education as a ladder out of poverty.

Justice Scalia, if you were being intellectually honest you would have stated that there are many factors that indicate a student's likely educational outcome beyond their natural academic ability. If you look at the characteristics that ensure success in higher education today you will find that things like your parent's level of educational attainment, the zip code you are born in, and the financial and emotional support provided by your family are all things that point to whether a student will be successful. Unfortunately because of our country's history with racial discrimination many of these indicators of success put black students at a disadvantage. I can tell you that in my own life the success I was able to find in school after struggling during my first year of college was due to me finding mentors and the support of my professors.

Students who are invested in succeed. Colleges who support their students of color have significantly better outcomes.

Diversity of race, religion, gender, social economic status and political affiliation make for a richer learning environment. My life experiences of overcoming poverty and homelessness brought an added dimension to many classroom conversations and heightened educational expectations at my school helped me to find a place in my private liberal arts college and later on in law school.

As a black lawyer I am ashamed to call you a judge, never mind a Supreme Court Justice. I have so admired the ideals of law, justice, equality and opportunity that this country and our legal system stand for. The Supreme Court has played an integral role in helping the country to move past the horrors and injustices of slavery, segregation, gender inequality and interracial marriage. Precedence setting decisions by our nation's highest court have allowed me to go from being a poor black girl to a successful, educated black lawyer living happily in an interracial marriage. If it wasn't for the Supreme Court's history of not only making decisions based on precedent but also on the ideals of this country and its constitution, the life I have would not be possible.

What has always stood out to me about the Supreme Court is not only the brilliance of the members, which there have been quite a few, but the wisdom to understand the power the court holds to change the way we live, how we think about each other and how we move forward as a country. The job you were appointed to requires courage to right longstanding wrongs and to speak for the least amongst us because it is the right and compassionate thing to do.

However, it is not courageous to call into question the ability of an entire race, especially concerning our young people who are actively trying to make a better life for themselves. It is not compassionate to ignore the history of exclusion of blacks in higher education through racism and prejudice.

You may bear the title of Supreme Court Justice, but you will never be a great jurist and history will not kindly remember your jurisprudence of divisiveness and exclusion. Separate is not equal and the "soft bigotry of low expectations" is not acceptable in today's America.

Nikki Johnson-Huston, Esq.
J.D./M.B.A./ LL.M in Taxation