Magazine November 1, 2021, Issue

The Supreme Court Denotes Race

The nine Supreme Court justices pose for a group photo in Washington, D.C., April 23, 2021. (Erin Schaff/Reuters)

This past June, the Supreme Court issued Terry v. United States, in which Justice Clar­ence Thomas, writing for the majority, used the adjective black. In her partial concurrence, Justice Sonia Soto­mayor capitalized it: Black. She was the first justice — apart from a 1971 anomaly in an opinion by Justice William O. Douglas — to use the capitalized Black as a racial designation. Until April of this year, her opinions uniformly put the term in lowercase.

The shift doubtless reflects the changing standards of style guides, many of which in 2020 started recommending Black over black. Mind you, the debate on

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This article appears as “The Court Denotes Race” in the November 1, 2021, print edition of National Review.

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Bryan A. Garner — Mr. Garner is the author of The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation, Garner’s Modern English Usage, and The HBR Guide to Better Business Writing.

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