The Supreme Court has issued a ruling on Fisher v. University of Texas. In a 7-1 decision, the Court decided that the use of race in college admissions is still constitutional. This part of the ruling could be considered a win for proponents of Affirmative Action programs. The bad part is that the Supreme Court has sent the case back to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans.
This is because the justices feel that the Court of Appeals was too partial to UT when they initially ruled on the case. Even though they are allowing affirmative action programs to stand for now, SCOTUS has raised the bar when it comes to using race in college admissions procedures. In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote that colleges and universities must show that “available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice” before they consider race in college admissions programs. See this article from the New York Times, which goes into more detail about the ruling, Justices Step up Scrutiny of Race in College Entry.
Well, SCOTUS just made things a lot harder for colleges and universities. For example, Texas has a Top 10 program that guarantees admission to a state school for students in the top 10 percent of their high school class. But, what if this program is not getting the job done when it comes to diversity? (That was actually one of the points in the University of Texas’ argument.) This program was designed with race and socio-economic conditions in mind, which is fantastic. I am sure that it increases diversity at Texas universities. But, is it enough? Does affirmative action still matter? Yes, it does. Affirmative action is still relevant and should remain a factor in admissions decisions.
In 2003, after ruling in the Grutter v. Bollinger case, Justice Sandra Day O. Conner said that the day would come “25 years from now” when “the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary” in admissions to foster educational diversity. Maybe Justice O. Conner is right, one day we will not need to consider race in college admissions because everyone will be committed to diversity and understand the benefits it brings to the educational process. But, we are not yet at that point. The very fact that this case went before the Supreme Court proves this. I wonder if Abigail Fisher knows that affirmative action programs do not only help minorities, they help white women as well. She has been quoted as saying that she is confident that one day the University of Texas will not be able to use race in the college admissions process.
I guess she feels that will be a good thing. I however strongly disagree with her. I, like Justice O. Conner look forward to a day when there is equity of opportunity in America and race is not a deciding factor in college admissions, one’s socio-economic status, or how far up the ladder one is able to climb. But, we are not there yet. America is not as equitable and fair as we claim to be.
Education inequality is a huge problem in this country. If affirmative action programs mean that students from poorer communities with less opportunities who worked hard in school but may not have access to some of the things their whiter counterparts or richer counterparts do get to go to college then I am all for it. The problem here is not affirmative action. It is that the way education is done in this country is wrong. This article by the New York Times, "Schooling Ourselves in Unequal America," speaks to this issue.
The Supreme Court ruling may have let affirmative action stand for now, but I fear for its future. This is not the last we'll see of this issue or case. I truly hope the day comes when we no longer need it. Until then, I hope society can come to recognize the opportunities it affords to those who need it and that it helps to enrich the education of everyone. The Supreme Court may have just rolled back years of progress. We will never be a “race-neutral country.” It is just not in our blood.