Daily Meme: The Roberts Court Takes Another Look at Affirmative Action

  • Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action—or as you probably know it, the University of Michigan affirmative-action case.
  • Unlike last year's Fisher v. University of Texas, the justices won't be debating the validity of assessing race in higher-education admissions. Instead, the case revolves around a 2006 referendum, Proposal 2, amending the state's constitution to prohibit racial consideration in college admissions.
  • Although the Supreme Court sent Fisher back to the lower courts, Nina Totenberg doesn't expect the same will happen with today's case. "Most observers expect there will be no such punt on the Michigan referendum. The clear odds are that the justices will sustain [the referendum]."
  • Striking down the referendum is a hard sell. As an ACLU lawyer admits, "How can a provision that is designed to end discrimination in fact discriminate?"
  • The challenger in the case, the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary, describes Proposal 2 as a "'legal sword' that champions of 'white privilege' can 'wield whenever and wherever a university admits what the opponents believe are too many minority students.'"
  • In Michigan and California, another state that banned affirmative actionminority enrollment has dropped. As a senior at Michigan puts it, “I guess my main concern is the psychological effect on African-Americans. I think being the only African-American student in class isn’t good for your psyche.”
  • The New York Times editorial board thinks the amendment should be struck down: "The court should uphold the Sixth Circuit’s decision striking down the amendment, and send a message to other states that they may not rig the game at the expense of minorities, even if they cloak it in the language of equality."
  • Emily Bazelon thinks liberals deserve to lose this case. Her reasoning? "Does the Constitution require every public university to have the option of using race-based preferences in admissions? That’s a stretch for the meaning of equal protection. The conservative majority on the Supreme Court won’t make it. That’s OK, as long as the court encourages states to work on getting more low-income kids of every race into higher education. That’s the fairness we need most."
  • Regardless of the case's outcome (although the fact that Elena Kagan has recused herself does not bode well for the Coalition), affirmative action will end the year more diminished than it started. 
  • It's time for colleges and universities to think of new ways to insure high-achieving, low-income students hear about and attend good schools. 
  • Is a class-based system the best way forward? Is fighting for education reformthat tries to make our colleges equally desirable the way to go? Is battening down the hatches and fighting for affirmative action the best option? Who knows, but it's something we should begin thinking about in earnest as a country.


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