I can’t find a link right now, but I’ve seen several commentaries that expressed incredulity at Justice Thomas’s claim that he believed that he was admitted to Yale Law School not because he was black, but because of the obstacles he had overcome (which were, to understate things, rather substantial) while succeeding in every educational environment. According to Thomas, the administration at Yale led him to believe that they were inclined to admit him because of his successes at overcoming these obstacles, and it was only later that he discovered that they and everyone else viewed him as the recipient of a race-based advantage that he obviously feels demeaned what he had accomplished.
I can’t vouch for Thomas’s account, but I did want to point out that it’s entirely possible that Yale denied it was giving him special treatment based on race. In fact, until rather recently, as a result of publicity attendant to the drop in minority admissions at the UC law schools after Proposition 209, and the data revealed as a result of anti-affirmative action litigation brought in Texas and Michigan by the Center for Individual Rights, the leaders of elite law schools routinely denied that they used meaningful racial preferences.
Consider Dean Herma Hill Kay of Boal Hall Law School’s response when she was asked on national television in April 1995 why there was “a widespread perception that the minorities who are admitted with those special considerations are the result of standards being lowered.” Kay responded that law schools do not lower standards to admit minorities. Rather, when schools “‘choose between two equally qualified persons,’ . . . [they] pick the ‘person of color’ in order to ‘do something about the really fundamental problem of racial prejudice in this society.'”
Meanwhile, for the entering class in 1996, the average LSAT statistics for Boalt students were as follows: Whites 168 (96.9 percentile); Asian 166 (95); Hispanic 159 (80.5); Black 155 (67).
I provide a couple of other examples of elite law schools denying or downplaying their racial preferences, including one from the Yale administration circa 1990, in this article (a defense of a constitutional right for private universities to use racial preferences in admissions).
If as late as 1995 law schools were denying their use of preferences, it’s not hard to imagine they were doing the same twenty years earlier, and that Thomas believed them.