Justice Alito's jurisprudence of white racial innocence - 2020-04-23
The practical impact of Ramos is small — until recently, only two states, Louisiana and Oregon, permitted a non-unanimous jury to convict a defendant. And Louisiana recently amended its constitution to eliminate this practice. But advocates saw in the ruling a big symbolic change in favor of racial justice. As the Court's lead opinion pointed out, non-unanimous juries are a practice rooted in white supremacy.
One justice took umbrage with that invocation of racism: Justice Samuel Alito. His dissent was the latest in a string of opinions bristling at the idea that racism still shapes many policymakers' decisions today, and that the legacy of past racism still affects people of color. In the most noteworthy of those opinions, 2018's Abbott v. Perez, Alito convinced a majority of his colleagues to write such a strong presumption of white racial innocence into the law governing racial voter discrimination that it is now virtually impossible for voting rights plaintiffs to prove that state lawmakers acted with racist intent.
Alito does not appear driven by broad skepticism of racial issues. While he has repeatedly lashed out at the mere suggestion that white policymakers may have been motivated by racism, he took a drastically different tone in Ricci v. DeStefano (2009). In that case, Alito wrote a lengthy concurring opinion suggesting that a cohort of mostly white firefighters were denied promotions due to a conspiracy between New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and a local black preacher.