Story by Jesse Wright
On April 22, the United States Supreme Court upheld the state of Michigan’s ban on the use of race as a factor in admissions to the state’s universities.
According to the New York Times, the 6-2 ruling affirmed a Michigan constitutional amendment approved by voters in the state. The ruling effectively endorses similar bans in seven other states.
In five separate opinions spanning more than 100 pages, the justices set out their staunch, conflicting views of the issue.
The justices in the majority said policies affecting minorities not involving intentional discrimination should be decided by voters rather than in the courts.
In his written opinion Justice Anthony Kennedy stated, “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this court’s precedents for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.”
States that forbid affirmative action in higher education, like Florida and California, as well as Michigan, have seen a significant drop in the enrollment of black and Hispanic students in their most prestigious colleges and universities.
Last week’s ruling may potentially open the doors for other states to pass similar prohibitions.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a scathing dissent of the Court’s ruling, saying the Constitution required special vigilance in light of the history of slavery, Jim Crow and “recent examples of discriminatory changes to state voting laws.”
Drake law, politics and society major Lee Moore agrees with the sentiments of Sotomayor.
“I think people in this country tend to forget that ‘fair’ and ‘equal’ are two different concepts,” Moore said. “To call affirmative action ‘reverse racism’ is to ignore this countries long history of discrimination and to paint a situation of false equivalence. We are a long way from living in a so-called post-racial society.”
Drake advertising major and president of Drake’s Coalition of Black Students, Tess Montgomery, also has reservations about the Court’s decision.
“Affirmative action forces a university to take minorities into account,” Montgomery said. “With the Supreme Court holding that Michigan does not need to pursue affirmative action, it in turn opens the doors for other universities to do the same. It sets the precedent that race is no longer an issue, which the Supreme Court made clear when they invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act. They tend to view race relations and policies as a Band-Aid rather than a replacement limb. They’re saying that institutional racism was a scratch in history that’s been healed and not an integral part of what made today’s society as it is, which still isn’t perfect. There’s more work to be done and affirmative action can help that.”
Montgomery also says that affirmative action is needed to make colleges more diverse.
“There are a small number of black students here,” she said. “One black student could name roughly 80 percent of all the other black students. People don’t tend to see multiculturalism as a thing. They don’t outright care about it because it doesn’t directly pertain to them as the majority. The system as it is now creates an unconscious process that is multiculturally disproportionate. Affirmative action is important in terms of creating a lens and perspective to see things from a pluralistic mindset.”
It is important to remember that the Court’s decision does not ban affirmative action outright in the process of college admissions, but rather states that voter initiatives which ban the practice by popular vote are permissible under the United States Constitution.
“Regardless of how one might feel about the decision itself, hopefully it will renew the conversation about the value of diversity and the legacy of racial inequality, both in our institutions of higher learning and our society,” said Drake law, politics and society professor William Garriott.