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Whoopi Goldberg, Sunny Hostin Call Out Clarence Thomas For Not Knowing What ‘Diversity’ Means After Benefiting from It: ‘It’s Like He’s Done This 180’

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is facing backlash for saying he doesn’t know the meaning of the word “diversity” during oral arguments over the use of affirmative action in college admissions.

Thomas questioned the definition of the word while the court heard a challenge against the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s consideration of race in its admission process on Monday.

It is one of two cases the nation’s highest court is reviewing that could roll back affirmative action in higher education. Among those calling out Thomas are Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar and Sunny Hostin of “The View.”

Whoopi Goldberg, Sunny Hostin Call Out Clarence Thomas For Not Knowing What 'Diversity' Means After Benefiting from It: 'It's Like He's Done This 180'
Co-hosts of “The View” discuss a Supreme Court challenge of affirmative action on Nov. 2, 2022. (Twitter video screenshot/ The View)

“I’ve heard the word diversity quite a few times and I don’t have a clue what it means. It seems to mean everything for everyone,” Thomas told an attorney for the university.

Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a conservative group, is behind the challenges to the court’s precedent that policies and practices should be put in place to prevent discrimination in college admissions.

It was first implemented by President Lydon Johnson in 1965 as an extension of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. SFFA accuses UNC and Harvard of using their affirmative action policies to discriminate against students.

“I’d like you to give us a specific definition of diversity in the context of the University of North Carolina,” Thomas continued. “And I’d also like you to give us a clear idea of exactly what the educational benefits of diversity at the University of North Carolina would be.”

SFFA argued that UNC’s affirmative action policy does not “merely use race as a ‘plus factor’ in its admissions decisions” and rejects race-neutral applicants to achieve diversity.

The organization accuses the public university of violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits organizations that discriminate from receiving federal funds.

Goldberg, Behar and Hostin slammed Thomas for his remarks on diversity on Wednesday morning.

“Actually, no, that’s not what it means, sir,” said Goldberg in response to Thomas’ definition of diversity.

“You are sitting on a court where — and I know you don’t like to admit this — but you might have gotten some help because you would not have been allowed in the college of your choice had it not been for affirmative action,” Golderg continued. “It’s not saying this is all you have to do. It is saying you have to include this as what you do.”

North Carolina Solicitor General Ryan Park told Thomas that the university’s definition is the same as the Supreme Court’s.

“A broadly diverse set of criteria that extends to all different backgrounds and perspectives, and not solely limited to race,” he said.

Still, Thomas, a Supreme Court justice for 31 years, has expressed oppositon to affirmative action in the past. In 1995, he said it was “just as noxious as discrimination inspired by malicious prejudice.”

CNN reports that the firm representing SFFA in the challenges is made up of several of Thomas’ previous clerks.

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas poses for the official group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington on Nov. 30, 2018. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

However, Behar pointed out that years before Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation, he seemingly admitted to benefiting from affirmative action policies. She cited a 1983 speech given by Thomas while he was chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws in the workplace.

Thomas said then: “It is my view that too much posturing has taken place on issues such as affirmative action which are critical to minorities and women in this society. But for them, God only knows where I would be today. These laws and their proper application are all that stand between the first 17 years of my life and the second 17.”

“It’s terrible. It’s terrible,” said Hostin. “He’s done this complete 180.”

Part of the oppostion is to the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollingerheld, when the court upheld that the University of Michigan Law School’s race-conscious student admissions process does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

The precedent applies to any college admission process as long as it takes into account other factors into the acceptance process.

However, Florida, Arizona, California, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire Oklahoma and Washington have previously banned the policies. If SFFA wins the challenges, affirmation action policies could be reversed in the remaining states.

Still, some argue that an affirmative action ban won’t impact most college admission rates. Pew Charitable Research shows that most higher learning institutions accept most students who apply.

Lower courts ruled in favor of Harvard and UNC in both lawsuits filed in 2014. They were supposed to be heard as one case, but Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson have to rescuse herself because of her ties to Harvard.

SFFA filed the lawsuit against Harvard on behalf of a group of Asian-American students alleging that the private Ivy League university created different standard for admission for Asian-American students because their academic credentials are “much harder to criticize.” Reports show Harvard also considers extracurricular ratings, athletic ratings and personal ratings.

“Its admissions process penalizes them for supposedly lacking as much leadership, confidence likability, or kindness as white applicants” said SSFA lawyer Cameron Norris.

The conservative group also claims that the school keeps a quota on how many students of a certain race are accepted. Racial quotas were barred in the 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Gratz v. Bollinger.

However, Hostin pointed on Wednesday that most Asian-Americans surveyed, or 69 percent, said they supported affirmative action.

Hostin stressed that the Supreme Court challenge was not about the fighting for Asian-Americans but legal goal by SFFA president Edward Blum funded by “dark money.” Blum was also behind an affirmative action challenge in 2012.

Park ultimately explained to Thomas the benefits of learning in a diverse environment as the justice pressed him for further explaination of the need for diversity. The state lawyer cited studies that show “diverse groups of people actually perform at a higher level.”

“It reduces groupthink, and people have longer and more sustained disagreement, and that leads to a more efficient outcome,” Park said.

“Well, I guess I don’t put much stock in that because I’ve heard similar arguments in favor of segregation, too,” Thomas replied.

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