In a 6-2 decision yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that voters in Michigan have the Constitutional right to determine whether or not race can be allowed to be a factor in admitting students to colleges and universities. Specifically, they upheld Michigan’s ban on Affirmative Action in the state. In states that determine that race is not to be used as a factor to determine admissions this would essentially end Affirmative Action there. While 8 states have already done so to include California, Florida and Arizona, most have not.
While the ruling is being called “partisan” by some media outlets that seems to be an oversimplification based on the 6-2 outcome among justices. The current partisan split on the Supreme Court is 5 Conservative judges and 4 Liberal ones, not 6-2.
As an aside, Politico lead with this insanely optimistic bit, “The Supreme Court delivered another setback to affirmative action Tuesday…” No, they struck it down as a Federal requirement, it’s gone for all intents and purposes. Upholding one end of an argument strikes down the other. That’s how it works. Sheesh, moving on.
The question then is how this ruling will effect minority acceptance into colleges. The notoriously liberal Berkely provides some instructive data on this topic. Using Affirmative Action as a factor in college admissions was banned in California in 1998.
Latina Justice Sotomayor took great exception to the court’s ruling and directly confronted previous statements made by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts.
Sotomayor noted Roberts’s famous statement in a 2007 opinion that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
Too simplistic, she said.
“This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable,” Sotomayor wrote. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”
She added: “As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society.”
What various media outlets have not seemed to consider is the effect that this ruling will have on private colleges and universities which were previously held to the same Affirmative Action standards as public institutions. Will the rolling back of Affirmative Action in Michigan result in the unintended consequence of forcing private institutions to deviate from whatever diversity policies they have in place? Will this mean that private institutions seeking to increase their minority populations open themselves up to lawsuits from white students whose applications were declined?
Given the litigious nature of the U.S. I can only imagine that we’ll be hearing about a lawsuit involving the above at some point. Regardless, what was interesting to me was that the dynamic of Sotomayor’s and Roberts’ arguments almost exactly mirror arguments on race that I’ve seen in comments sections both here and on Gawker minus the smattering of “Guests” dropping the N bomb for lulz. Look here, here, and here. One side believes diversity is important insomuch as allows minorities, notoriously less well heeled, similar opportunities to excel as the notoriously wealthier White majority. The other side believes race shouldn’t be a factor in making decisions about people and that racial harmony will only appear when people are simply viewed as people. Yes, this is a conversation about White privilege, explicit or not, it’s just being held on an extremely high level.
In Sotomayor’s dissent she speaks specifically about the challenges minorities still face.
“Race matters,” she wrote, to the minority teenager who sees “others tense up as he passes;” to the young person addressed in a foreign language although she grew up in this country; to the young woman who is asked “No, where are you really from?”
“Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here,’ ” Sotomayor wrote.
Roberts repeated Sotomayor’s words before coming to the opposite conclusion.
“It is not ‘out of touch with reality’ to conclude that racial preferences may themselves have the debilitating effect of reinforcing precisely that doubt, and — if so — that the preferences do more harm than good,” he responded.
Sotomayor argues that “preference” is another word for racism, intentional or not. Roberts believes in a semi-utopian scenario where mankind universally and simultaneously decides to quit being racist. In my opinion, both are extreme, both are wrong, this ruling was terrible and lazily thought through. Affirmative Action has a purpose, it should not be about individual ideology. It should be about maximizing the good for society.