Affirmative action on the docket

By Stefan Herlitz

The United States Supreme Court is in session, and affirmative action is now on the table. Oral arguments in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas began on Oct. 10. In this case, Abigail Fisher, the petitioner, claims that the University of Texas’ policy of affirmative action in admissions discriminated against her due to her race, and also claims the application fee of $100 in damages. Fisher was not accepted to the University of Texas, and instead attended Louisiana State University, which she has now graduated from. Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from the case, presumably because she had previously worked on the case as Solicitor-General before her appointment to the Supreme Court. (http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/11-345.pdf).

MCT

The nine-person Supreme Court is usually divided into a Conservative and Liberal blocs, with Justice Anthony Kennedy acting as a swing vote in many cases. Since Kagan has recused herself from the case, it seems very likely that affirmative action in public universities will be shot down, as the liberals would need to persuade Kennedy, an outspoken advocate of individual liberties and equality, to side with them. Since Kennedy is slightly conservative and strongly supports equal protection under the law for all, this is unlikely, as affirmative action gives benefits only to a select group of people at the expense of others.

Thus, affirmative action in public universities may well be gone in time for college application season.

Affirmative action is an extremely divisive issue. Even now, those who support affirmative action, like Jamilah Lemieux, a News and Lifestyle editor at Ebony magazine, are accusing Ms. Fisher, the petitioner, of expressing “white privilege” and blasting the commonly-known idea that “[one] would have gotten that scholarship/seat/job” if he or she had been a member of a minority ethnic group (http://www.ebony.com/news-views/affirmative-action-vs-white-privilege-119).

Despite incessant mudslinging from both sides, one must wonder if affirmative action is actually necessary anymore. Instituted to enforce integration of colleges, universities, employment and public service, affirmative action came to being around the time of the Civil Rights movement. Now, minorities are legally protected from various forms of discrimination under the law and America has an African-American president. In fact, this presidential election is the first in history in which no presidential or vice presidential candidate is a white Anglo-Saxon protestant (http://www.ottawacitizen.com/WASP+free+zone/7446891/story.html). Racial diversity has progressed by leaps and bounds in this period. Yes, there remain vestiges of racism in society, but they are widely denounced as socially wrong and unacceptable. Universities in particular have long been at the forefront of racial equality and diversity, and in fact are often noted as some of the most liberal institutions in America.

Fisher v. University of Texas is not the first time affirmative action has been challenged in recent years. In fact, California banned the use of race or ethnicity in admissions when it passed Proposition 209 in 1996. Proposition 209 was an initiative meant to ensure equal rights for members of all races, and its results on the University of California system are extremely interesting: diversity in the UC system has actually gone up since Proposition 209 was passed. To quote the L.A. Times:

“Latino students have gone from 15.4 percent (5,744 students) of freshman undergraduate admissions in 1996 to 23 percent (14,081) in 2010 (a 145 percent increase). Asian students have gone from 29.8 percent (11,085) of the freshman admits to 37.47 percent (22,877). Native American admits have declined slightly, from 0.9 percent to 0.8 percent, but their absolute number increased, from 360 to 531. African American admits have gone from 4 percent (1,628) to 4.2 percent (2,624), a modest gain in percentage but nearly a 50 percent increase in numbers of freshmen admitted. The only major category that declined in percentage terms was whites, who went from 44 percent (16,465) of the freshmen admits to 34 percent (20,807).” (http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jul/12/opinion/la-oe-lehrer-affirmativeaction-20100712)

Affirmative action in college admissions is unnecessary – diversity happens anyway. I would go even farther and propose that affirmative action actually holds a negative influence on our society at this point, as it merely belittles the achievements of the vast majority of minority students, who earned admission through their own merit. America does not need affirmative action anymore – it is a policy left over from a bygone age. Students ought to be accepted for the quality of their character and personal achievements, not the color of their skin; indeed, most already are. No matter what the Supreme Court decides in regard to Fisher v. University of Texas this fall, rest assured that diversity shall remain.

Stefan Herlitz is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]