Black lawmakers excoriate Scalia over ‘disgusting’ remarks

Black lawmakers excoriate Scalia over ‘disgusting’ remarks

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's comments questioning whether some black students should attend “less-advanced” schools drew fierce criticism Thursday from a growing chorus of black lawmakers who said the remarks undermine public confidence in the bench.

Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chairman G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldHouse poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate Democrat makes case for impeachment in Spanish during House floor debate Democrats likely to gain seats under new North Carolina maps MORE (D-N.C.) derided Scalia’s remarks as “disgusting, inaccurate and insulting.” He argued the outspoken conservative justice should recuse himself from the case and suggested the Judicial Conference of the United States should review the comments and consider his removal from the bench.

“He’s expressed a bias or potential bias that will affect the public confidence in the outcome of the case,” he said. “Judges have to have integrity and they need to be independent and not make reckless comments from the bench that cast a shadow on the administration of justice.”

Scalia’s comments came during oral arguments in a case challenging the University of Texas at Austin’s race-based admissions policy, also known as affirmative action.

“There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well,” Scalia said. “One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don't come from schools like the University of Texas.”

He went on to say that the majority of the country’s black scientists go to “lesser schools where they do not feel that they're being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”

“I'm just not impressed by the fact that the University of Texas may have fewer,” he said of minority students. “Maybe it ought to have fewer.”

Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), a member of the CBC, said she was “horrified” that Scalia had “the nerve” to say what he did.

“If he just checked out the Congressional Black Caucus, he’d find some of the smartest people,” she said. “I have a PhD, we have graduates from Yale, Harvard and schools all across this country, not just [Historically Black Colleges and Universities]. It was very insulting.”

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) went as far as to invite Scalia to tour Marylands’s HBCUs with her.

In a letter, she said he would benefit from joining her on a tour of Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said he himself, the son of former sharecroppers, earned degrees from highly reputable schools — Howard University and the University of Maryland School of Law — became a lawyer and then a member of Congress.  

"Justice Scalia obviously does not have a good knowledge of what determination is all about," he said. "There are Americans — not only blacks, but also Hispanic, whites — who have come up under difficult circumstances, and in many [cases] deprived of a good, free, K-12 education and yet have still done extremely well in these universities, these top-notch universities, and then gone out to do great things.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the comments show a “lack of appreciation for the people of our country.”

“It is indicative of why they make the decisions they do, but it has no place on the court or in our country,” she said.

In a statement, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) compared Scalia to John C. Calhoun, the 19th century U.S. senator and vice president known for having defended slavery.

“What he said was morally reprehensible and exposes a prejudice which explains some of his past decisions and opinions,” he said. “It is shocking that a Supreme Court Justice would sound more like John C. Calhoun than what we would think a 21st Century Justice should sound like.”

In a tweet Thursday morning, Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Trumpification of the federal courts Trump to rally evangelicals after critical Christianity Today editorial Left presses 2020 Democrats to retake the courts from Trump MORE (D-Nev.) likened Scalia to GOP presidential hopeful Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE, who created his own controversy this week when he called for a blanket ban on all Muslims entering the United States.

“Key difference between the ideas endorsed by Trump and Scalia is that Scalia has a robe and a lifetime appointment,” he tweeted.

Scalia’s comments created a firestorm on Twitter, but it’s nothing new for the conservative justice, who has made questionable comments before.

Just last month, while talking to law students at Georgetown University, he said the logic behind the court’s decision to protect gay rights could easily apply to child molesters, according to a New York Times report.

“What minorities deserve protection?” Scalia reportedly asked. “What? It’s up to me to identify deserving minorities?” Later adding, “What about pederasts? What about child abusers?”

While lawmakers were quick to call Scalia’s comments on race abhorrent and insulting, no one specifically called for an apology.

Butterfield held that any apology would be “minimal.”

“He would have to decide if his conscience would allow him to apologize,” he said. “An apology is not going to directly address the question — the question of has the public’s confidence in the administration of justice been eroded?”

Butterfield said he is considering calling a meeting on Monday to discuss what formal action the caucus should take.

“Judges can be impeached,” he said. “I’m not calling for his impeachment at this point until we have a chance to continue to talk about it, but judges are not above the law. You don’t use your position on the U.S. Supreme Court to make reckless statements that could be considered political statements.”

Some lawmakers, however, came to Scalia’s defense.

“Justice Scalia is a very witty person, he’s a very brilliant person,” said Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKey Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals MORE (R-Utah). “He’s one of the most brilliant justices who has ever sat on that court and he has a lot fun with some of those arguments.” 

When asked if what Scalia said was at all racist, Hatch said, “Oh heavens no.”

“He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” he said. “He’s conservative and sometimes people try to imply that conservatives are racist when they’re really not.”

As for the uproar created by Scalia’s comments on Capitol Hill, Hatch said it’s just the “usual baloney that happens here in Washington.”

“Everyone knows what an accomplished person he is,” he said. “Liberals don’t like what he does. They don’t like him personally … but I know him very well and he’s as fine a man as you’ll ever find.”  

Though Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he’s only heard about Scalia’s comments, he doubted they they were meant to be indicative of a racist viewpoint.

“I would regret any comment that indicated support for discrimination or segregation if that’s what he said, but I can’t believe he meant that,” he said.  

Mike Lillis and Lisa Hagen contributed to this report.