The Debate on Affirmative Action
By Willa Yu
Affirmative action, founded in the 1960’s, was implemented in the name of equality. Now, about half a century later, it is time to consider if the policies deemed appropriate immediately after the Civil Rights Movement are still suitable in today’s society. The Supreme Court may finally decide that affirmative action in higher education does the exact opposite of what it intends—to create equality. At the same time, preferential treatment in higher education might actually make a comeback in some states. While some resolve to abolish it, others firmly champion affirmative action, making it one of the United States’ most pressing social issues.
Many states, such as Michigan, have already decided that it is unconstitutional to use racial preferences in admissions to public universities. In 2006, an initiative prohibited preferential treatment in public education, government contracting, and public employment. Hitherto, all attempts to repeal this referendum, called Proposal 2, have fail. However, proponents of affirmative action in Michigan are to voice their opinions in a new Supreme Court case, Schuette v. Coalition for Affirmative Action, which was granted a writ of certiorari on Monday, April 22. Given that just last fall, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that Proposal 2 violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause on a 8 to 7 vote, it seems as though the Supreme Court will have an equally split vote. A Democratic president appointed all eight judges in the majority while a Republican president appointed all seven judges in the dissent. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear this case in the term that starts this October.
Meanwhile, a Texas student’s lawsuit against the University of Texas will be decided as soon as Monday, April 29th. Abigail Fisher, a white student denied by the University of Texas, claims that while she was denied, under-qualified minorities were accepted. Oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas were heard fall of 2012 in which Abigail Fisher followed by stating, “My parents always taught me that it is wrong to discriminate. I hope the Supreme Court will decide that all future University of Texas applicants will compete without their race or ethnicity used in the school’s admissions process.” President of the University of Texas Bill Powers told after the oral arguments, “The educational benefits of diversity are worth fighting for all the way to the Supreme Court. Our lawyers effectively made the case to the justices that diversity — ethnic and otherwise — benefits all students on campus. We made the case that UT has crafted an admissions policy that meets the strict guidelines established by the court in the Grutter decision nine years ago.”
Interestingly enough, advocates for affirmative action are now defending these policies with the idea of diversity rather than curtailing prejudices. Of course, this raises the question: does the U.S. value diversity over fairness or vice versa?
Because no one on the defense mentioned any disadvantages faced by minorities, the debate on affirmative action has clearly shifted from the time of its conception to now. Naturally, a shift in ideals would not sit well with those who supported racial preferences for their original intentions. As the Supreme Court’s judgment draws near, all there is left to wonder is if affirmative action should be upheld based on an entirely different reason than the purpose of its foundations.
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