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Is Affirmative Action Meant to Help Whites?

Is Affirmative Action Meant to Help Whites?

Is affirmative action in universities meant to help racial minorities or whites? The answer may seem obvious, but the Supreme Court’s response is not: it appears from its opinions that its goal in upholding affirmative action is to improve the education of white students. At least, that’s what it says.

This term, the Court is going to hear a new case attacking affirmative action. The University of Texas rejected the applications of two white high school students, Abby Fisher and Rachel Michalewicz, for admission as undergraduates. The girls had good grades and standardized test scores plus a bushelful of extracurricular activities each. When Texas turned them down they sued the university for race discrimination, arguing that its affirmative action program was the reason they were rejected and asking the court to force it to stop considering race as a factor in admissions decisions. (Michalewicz is no longer participating in the case.)

As the case stands right now, the school is winning. But when the Supreme Court rules on it, the result could mean the end of affirmative action.

In order not to run afoul of anti-discrimination laws, affirmative action programs must serve a compelling interest and be narrowly tailored to satisfy that interest. Courts have decided that making up for unspecified past discrimination is not, under the law, a “compelling interest,” so judges have had to come up with a different rationale for race-based admissions plans: improving the education of white students.

The last time the Supreme Court reviewed a university’s affirmative action plan was in 2003, in a case against the University of Michigan. In its decision approving Michigan’s affirmative action plan, the Court noted that a primary goal of the plan was for the minority students it admitted “to contribute to the learning of those around them,” as Justice O’Connor wrote.

More specifically, according to a former professor at the University of Michigan Law School, minority students help their white counterparts by demonstrating that “there is no [single] ‘minority viewpoint.’” In other words, minority students were admitted to teach whites that not all individual members of racial minorities are the same.

The most recent court to rule on the Texas case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, analyzed the Supreme Court’s decision in the Michigan case and distilled it into several reasons that universities have a compelling interest in enrolling minority students. One was that the minority students present perspectives that white students otherwise would not hear. Another was that interacting with minority students prepares whites for the diversity they may face in the professional world. Together these reasons give the disturbing appearance that the Supreme Court approved giving minority students preferential treatment in admissions to benefit whites.

The Supreme Court also contended in its 2003 Michigan decision that diversity enhances the educational experience of minority students as well as whites, but studies documenting the benefits of single-race education cast doubt on that proposition. Justice Thomas castigated the Court for ignoring “the growing evidence that racial (and other sorts) of heterogeneity actually impairs learning among black students.”

Regardless, it doesn’t seem entirely plausible that a majority of Supreme Court justices would permit schools across the nation to exploit racial minorities for the sake of whites, and it doesn’t seem logical that they would permit discrimination against white applicants for admission in order to improve the education of the whites who are admitted. A more likely explanation is that the majority of justices on the Court think affirmative action is an important weapon against prejudice and the ills it has caused, but as the law has developed, it has boxed them into a corner where they can’t say that.

If that is true, it isn’t just the future of affirmative action that hangs in the balance with the University of Texas case. The integrity of the American judicial system is also in jeopardy if the Supreme Court is making up explanations to disguise its choice to do the right thing.

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Supreme Court To Take Up Affirmative Action

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Photo credit: Ron Chapple Studios

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23 comments

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11:05PM PDT on Oct 8, 2012

Affirmative Action has morphed into a way of lowering the bar.

1:54PM PDT on Oct 8, 2012

L’Afrique aux Africains, l’Asie aux Asiatiques, les pays blancs pour tout le monde. Viva Le Penn. Flooding All White countries with Non-Whites is Genocide.

9:29AM PDT on Oct 8, 2012

Some of the comments on this thread illustrate just why we STILL, unfortunately, need affirmative action.

And anyone who thinks that poor kids - especially minority poor kids - are getting an equal education in K-12 is deluded.

1:35AM PDT on Oct 6, 2012

Yeah, if the Supreme Court uses specious reasoning to justify something it wants to do for other reasons "The integrity of the American judicial system is also in jeopardy". Because that never happened before. Yeah right. If the integrity of the US justice system depends on judges actually interpreting the law impartially then it's been dead since The New Deal. Which come to think of it it has been. Well I'm off to harvest my own wheat and feed it to my own chickens, otherwise known as "Interstate commerce".

10:00PM PDT on Oct 4, 2012

"But when the Supreme Court rules on it, the result could mean the end of affirmative action."

And that would be a very good thing. Race/color/gender/ should have no effect on your application.

Indeed, I think it should be illegal to reveal them at all in applications for schools and jobs alike, along with ethnicity, age, social standing and general appearances. That way it would be neutral and fair.

6:32PM PDT on Oct 4, 2012

Diversity in life experiences and ability to relate well to persons from varied cultures and backgrounds is a fundamental skill set for success in global business--and whites may be less likely to get this essential skillset anywhere other than college, especially if they grew up in communities with little diversity and attended schools without more than token diversity.

1:43PM PDT on Oct 4, 2012

Diana S. - I agree about the blind process!

As a female I have always found affirmative action insulting as I want to be enrolled/hired because of my qualifications not my sex! I understand that it leveled the field for visible minorities but I have to wonder if it is still necessary as most schools of higher education are very diverse culturally.

11:58AM PDT on Oct 4, 2012

A lot of this is to cover up the truth, a diverion--the truth of how racist the white leadership of the USA really is against dark-skinned tribes people. To cover up the truth of the extent of the ruining of the biodiversity of the USA that most indigenous tribes protected. While segregation existed and the focus was on desegregation, this was the focus in the media instead of how the non-environmentally correct infrastructure--highways, airports, routes, cities were built to kill the indigenous food supply and wreck the biodiversiy. They got rid of the segregation of buses, but did not question why the bus route should be there at all, etc. This is going on worldwide--the destruction of biodiversity. I believe it will stop eventually, and the worthless dams unplugged, but it may be awhile. When humans matur, there will b more jusic and better environmetally correct planning of travel routes, villages and cities. The major media is sill as unreliable and backwards, as they have to use Wiki Leaks, or PETA to come up with any valuable rights article.

11:44AM PDT on Oct 4, 2012

I thought I read the title wrong. LOL

8:10AM PDT on Oct 4, 2012

Affirmative action, for the most part, is designed to punish today's whites for things done years ago by other white people, who were doing exactly the same things that were going on all over the world during their time.
In the 16-1700s, slavery was a given all over the civilized world. Christopher Columbus, who has been demonized for the last 40-50 years, did exactly the same things to indigenous peoples as every other explorer of that time.
Political correctness has a lot of crimes and injustices to account for in today's society; and so-called affirmative action CANNOT survive in a world where we SHOULD be striving to treat everyone fairly.
Perhaps ALL applications - for jobs, for schooling, for loans - should be submitted "blind", as a written document, WITHOUT photos or face-to-face "interviews," so that EVERY applicant is judged on the basis of their skills, abilities, and intellect. That's the only FAIR way to get it done!

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