George Orwell, the estimable 20th-century author of 1984 and Animal Farm, said that some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals could believe them. I couldn’t help but think of that saying today when I was reading an article in the NY Times. The article reported that the U.S. Supreme Court had decided the voters of Michigan were allowed to pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting discrimination based on sex or race in college admissions, government contracting, and public employment.
That may sound like a no-brainer decision, but the vote was 6-2, with Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg arguing that it was discriminatory against minorities to prohibit discrimination against the majority. (The Orwellian argument could have had a female trifecta except that Elena Kagan recused herself because of some prior involvement in the case.)
In 2007 Chief Justice Robert suggested, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Seven years later, Justice Sotomayor attempted a biting comeback:
- “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”
Chief Justice Roberts didn’t need any time to expose Sotomayor’s ad hominem:
- “People can disagree in good faith on this issue, but it similarly does more harm than good to question the openness and candor of those on either side of the debate.”
The NY Times printed an editorial criticizing the decision. In the editorial, it praised Sotomayor’s eloquence is declaring that “race matters,” as compared to Robert’s “glib” statement in 2007 that revealed “a naïve vision of racial justice.”
Seems that Sotomayor and the Times were exactly what Orwell had in mind with his aphorism.