Clarence Thomas Split in Affirmative Action Decisions

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (search), the only black member of the court and an opponent of affirmative action programs, disagreed with the court's decision Monday to uphold a University of Michigan (search) law school program that seeks to boost minority enrollment.

He agreed with the court's finding that a similar undergraduate program is unconstitutional.

"Because I wish to see all students succeed whatever their color, I share, in some respect, the sympathies of those who sponsor the type of discrimination advanced by the University of Michigan Law School," Thomas said, dissenting, in part, from the 5-4 decision upholding the law school's program.

"The Constitution does not, however, tolerate institutional devotion to the status quo in admissions policies when such devotion ripens into racial discrimination," he said.

In its majority opinion, the high court said the Constitution "does not prohibit the law school's narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body."

But Thomas disagreed, and accused the law school of maintaining "an exclusionary admissions system that it knows produces racially disproportionate results."

"Racial discrimination is not a permissible solution to the self-inflicted wounds of this elitist admissions policy," he said.

Thomas agreed with the court's 6-3 conclusion that a similar undergraduate program at the University of Michigan is unconstitutional. He said a state's use of racial discrimination in higher education admissions is categorically prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.