Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson Cites Pitzer President Emeritus Melvin L. Oliver’s Research in SCOTUS Affirmative Action Dissent

Claremont, Calif. (July 12, 2023)—In her dissent to the Supreme Court’s June decision against affirmative action in college admissions, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson cited Pitzer President Emeritus Melvin L. Oliver’s research regarding racial wealth disparity in America.

Jackson pulled several of her points from Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality, which Oliver co-authored with Brandeis University Professor Thomas M. Shapiro. First published in 1995, their book analyzes how wealth—including assets and debts instead of just income—has perpetuated racial inequality in the U.S. despite (and because of) public policies.

In her first citation, in which she directly quotes Oliver’s book, Jackson wrote: “Given the lengthy history of state-sponsored race-based preferences in America, to say that anyone is now victimized if a college considers whether that legacy of discrimination has unequally advantaged its applicants fails to acknowledge the well-documented ‘intergenerational transmission of inequality’ that still plagues our citizenry.”

The 10th anniversary edition of Oliver and Shapiro’s award-winning book was published in 2006. Years later, Black Wealth/White Wealth remains a touchstone for discussions of racial inequality. Ta-Nehisi Coates cited the work in his Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations,” and The Washington Post quoted Oliver in its six-part series, “George Floyd’s America.”

While he was Pitzer’s president, Oliver established the Racial Justice Initiative (RJI) to embed racial justice throughout the College’s educational experience. RJI was renamed the Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative in his honor when he retired from the presidency in June 2022. Oliver has called the initiative “a culmination of my life’s work and an essential component of Pitzer’s social justice mission.” 

Other Pitzer SCOTUS responses

In addition to Oliver, the Pitzer community’s opposition to the high court’s striking down of affirmative action in college admissions was visible in other media outlets and venues.

Soon after the ruling was announced, an email message to the College community from President Strom Thacker, Interim President Jill Klein P’15, and Admission and Financial Aid Vice President Yvonne Berumen ’97 expressed disappointment but also reaffirmed Pitzer’s commitment to diversity within the changing legal landscape.

In addition, Pitzer alumna Michele Siqueiros ’95, who serves as president of the nonprofit Campaign for College Opportunity, talked to NBC News about the ruling’s impact.

Read Jackson’s full dissent on Politico.

About Pitzer College

Pitzer College is a nationally top-ranked undergraduate liberal arts and sciences institution. A member of The Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers a distinctive approach to a liberal arts education by linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility, and community involvement. For more information, please visit www.pitzer.edu.

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