The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, a case dealing with affirmative action in Michigan state schools. The case stems from a voter-backed amendment passed in 2006, which said, “The state [and its colleges and universities] shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting” (Proposal 06-2, Article 1, Sec. 26(2).”
After the Supreme Court allowed the continued use of race as a criterion in college admissions in its 2003 ruling, Grutter v. Bollinger, opponents of affirmative action in Michigan decided to put the issue up to public vote under the name of Proposal 2. The Detroit-based Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action quickly filed suit. A second group, represented by the ACLU and University of Michigan students and faculty, also sued.
In 2012, Proposal 2 was declared unconstitutional by the U.S Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit “because it place[d] an unfair burden on those seeking to have race considered as one of many factors in university admissions.”
The argument was, in layman’s terms, that if athletes, legacies, students belonging to certain religious groups, and students with other unique traits are given preferential treatment, it is then unfair to deny special treatment to students based on their race. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette responded by saying, “It’s wrong to treat people differently based on your race or the color of your skin.”
During oral arguments early this month, Michigan Solicitor General John Bursch was confronted with the complaint that some groups, such as legacies, retain special admittance privileges, while racial minorities are now denied those privileges. When Bursch suggested that Michigan could get rid of legacy admissions as a way to admit a more diverse student body, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said: “The minorities finally get in and have children, and now you want to do away with alumni preferences.” Instead of making snide comments, maybe Sotomayor should look at the statistical breakdown of alumni and realize that Bursch’s proposal would, at this moment in time, benefit minorities.
When the ACLU’s Rosenbaum presented his argument to the Supreme Court, he raised an objection to Proposal 2 on the grounds that it “singled out race for differential treatment,” and was therefore a “racial classification.” Scalia then pointed out that by Rosenbaum’s logic, “the 14th Amendment itself is a racial classification.” To frame Scalia’s response a little differently, think of it this way: The difference between Proposal 2 and Jim Crow laws, for example, is that Proposal 2 singles out the concept of race, while Jim Crow laws singled out anyone classified as a “Negro.” Michigan is trying to do away with race-based processes, but apparently that is racist, according to the ACLU.
The arguments made by the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action’s attorney, Driver, were even worse than Rosenbaum’s. Driver began by imploring the Supreme Court “to bring the 14th Amendment back to its original purpose, which is to protect minority rights against a white majority.” She must have forgotten that the 14th Amendment protects all races, not just minorities. She then said that the University of Michigan regents should be the ones to eliminate racial preferences. She also objected to letting the public decide despite their right to do so because she believes that Michigan voters are “applying [their] plenary authority in a way that is racially focused and creates a political process that is disadvantageous to minorities.” By not passing Proposal 2, the public would have created a process that is disadvantageous to hardworking, non-minority students. However, Driver doesn’t believe that whites are protected under the 14th Amendment. More importantly, constitutionality is not based on what is “advantageous,” but on what is decreed by the Constitution.
Despite what the ACLU wants you to believe, allowing race to continue to be a deciding factor in college admissions would be iniquitous. The Supreme Court should listen to Bursch’s solution of focusing on promoting socioeconomic diversity instead.
At the University of Michigan, for instance, the number of students receiving Pell grants is half of what it is at the University of Texas at Austin. In the state of Texas, minority performance at socioeconomically disadvantaged high schools has improved after a policy was implemented where a student who finishes in the top 10 percent of their class would be guaranteed acceptance at a public university. Using a combination of socioeconomic and academic factors in admissions is much fairer than using race because the poor are the truly disadvantaged and class is no longer determined by race. Thus ensuring opportunity to the socioeconomically disadvantaged should be the focus of these so-called champions of social justice, not furthering a system of racial preferences.
Ondo is a member of
the class of 2014.