Affirmative Action

This is another blog on the upcoming decision at SCOTUS the Supreme Court of the United States. This time on an attack on affirmative action as represented by the appeal on the University of Texas’s admission policies.

Based on reports by the New York Times*, “the affirmative action plan at the University of Texas seemed to be in trouble at the Supreme Court on Wednesday. By the end of an unusually long and tense argument, a majority of the justices appeared unpersuaded that the plan was constitutional”.

First some background. In 2003, the court said that public colleges and universities could not use a point system to increase minority enrollment but could take race into account in vaguer ways to ensure academic diversity. And there is rub so to speak, vague can be interpreted as almost anything!

Justice Scalia his usual conservative take and said:  “minority students with inferior academic credentials may be better off at “a less advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well.”

In addition he said: “Most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas,” he said. “They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”

And the usually liberal Justice Kennedy, spent almost all of his time exploring whether the university should be allowed to submit more evidence to justify its use of race in accepting students.

However, at UC Berkley, in a state that banned affirmative action in college admissions, fewer black and Hispanic freshmen were enrolled**. Thus, between 1990 and 2011 Hispanic enrollment went down from 23% to11%. This is despite the increase of California’s college aged residents from 35% to 49%. There is a similar trend in Black enrollment.

The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, No. 14-981, was brought by Abigail Fisher, a white student who says the University of Texas denied her admission in 2008 because of her race. She has since graduated from Louisiana State University. At that University during the same Hispanic and Blacks suffered the same enrollment stalling**.

Adding to the fuel on this fire is the so called “Top Ten” policy of Texas colleges that the State of Texas has such that “If you attend a public high school in Texas you must submit a transcript that indicates that you will graduate under the state’s Recommended or Distinguished/Advanced high school programs as defined in the state’s Uniform Admissions Policy or a transcript that shows you will graduate under the state’s Foundation high school program. Students graduating under the Foundation program must show proof of the distinguished level of achievement to be eligible for top 10 percent automatic admission”.***

This Texas admissions plan, which accounts for 75 percent of the student body, does not directly consider race but increases racial diversity largely because many high schools in the state are not diverse.

For the remaining students, the plan takes account of race as one factor among many, the approach used by many selective colleges and universities nationwide. Ms. Fisher sought admission under the second part of the plan.

And the champion of liberal jurisprudence Justice Ginsburg said  “It’s totally dependent upon having racially segregated neighborhoods, racially segregated schools, and it operates as a disincentive for a minority student to step out of that segregated community and attempt to get an integrated education.”

However on a breath of fresh air, Justice Breyer said, that the Supreme Court will “kill affirmative action through a death by a thousand cuts.”

I remain very concerned that this decision may railroad affirmative action after a 12-year-old compromise was granted.

More and more SCOTUS is acting on some laws where people at the margins in the US are losing ground in an era where income and race inequality are becoming more evident. This blog and a previous blog on SCOTUS and the vote**** are more reasons to vote in ALL elections that lead to consideration of candidates that favor diversity and human rights.




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