Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Dissent Repeats Debunked Claim About Black Doctors

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Sarah Wilder Social Issues Reporter
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Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson parroted a refuted claim in a Thursday dissent that black newborns are more likely to live when treated by black doctors.

“For high risk Black newborns, having a Black physician more than doubles the likelihood that the baby will live, and not die,” Jackson wrote in her dissent for a case that determined the fate of affirmative action policies in college admission practices. (RELATED: Supreme Court Sides With Christian Web Designer In Compelled Speech Case)

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the affirmative action admissions policies of Harvard University and University of North Carolina (UNC) violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.

“A benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “In other words, the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race.”

An amicus curiae brief filed in the case by the Association of American Medical Colleges conjectures that black babies have a higher survival rate when treated by black doctors, citing a 2020 study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study cited, however, only says that black babies have a 99.96% chance of survival when treated by black doctors, and a 99.91% chance of survival when treated by white doctors. The statistic has been used by proponents of affirmative action policies to argue that increasing representation of black medical students in schools will lead to better health outcomes and fewer patient deaths among these communities.

Moreover, white doctors are more likely to treat babies in dire medical situations that land them in the NICU than are black doctors, which the study does not control for.

“So the study is confusing correlation with causation: if you have a black doctor, your baby is more likely to survive, but that’s because that means you’re less likely to be in the NICU, where there are fewer black doctors. It has nothing to do with the race of the doctor,” American lawyer Ted Frank explains.