A Jackson “Clarification”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented in the UNC race discrimination case. Her dissent was a political screed, not a legal argument, and it contained at least one howler that we and many others pointed out. Jackson argued that universities need to discriminate in favor of blacks so that there will be more black doctors. Why? Jackson wrote:

For high-risk black newborns, having a black physician more than doubles the likelihood that the baby will live, and not die.

Given that around 99.6% of all black babies survive, that claim was ridiculous on its face. It was pretty much a direct quote from an amicus brief submitted by a law firm called Norton Rose Fullbright on behalf of the Association of American Medical Colleges. The “statistic” was based on a study that appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

After many observers pointed out that Jackson’s claim could not possibly be true, and in fact reflected a stunning lack of skill in arithmetic among other logical flaws, the law firm belatedly filed a “clarification” of its obviously incorrect amicus brief:

[W]hile survival is the obverse of mortality and in general terms decreased mortality indicates increased survival, statistically they are not interchangeable. … A more precise summary of the study’s finding would have been to state that having a Black physician reduces by more than half the likelihood of death for Black newborns as compared to White newborns.

Given that black newborns survive 99.6% of the time, we are talking about a very thin margin here. The slight difference in black and white survival rates reflects the fact that more black than white babies are born seriously underweight, I assume because of a higher rate of drug addiction among black mothers.

At any rate, the “clarification” is completely different from what the amicus brief originally said, and what Justice Jackson wrote.

The firm claimed that the study still supported Justice Jackson’s dissent, but it did not explain why she referred to black newborns as “high-risk” when that term did not appear in the study.

Jackson just made that part up, but it doesn’t make her arithmetic make sense. Jackson will need to up her game considerably if she wants to be taken seriously as a Supreme Court justice.

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