Affirmative Action Under Attack mk. bazillion

A Michigan ballot initiative on the block next week will, if passed, eliminate the consideration of race and sex in state institutions’ hiring and admissions processes. As many of you will recall, Michigan is one of the most consequential fronts in the AA debate; two landmark Supreme Court decisions in 2003 established new national rules for exactly how race can be incorporated in college admissions. In Gratz v. Bollinger, in which two white applicants to the University of Michigan’s undergrad program (one of whom is now stumping for the proposed law) filed a class-action lawsuit alleging reverse discrimination, the SCOTUS struck down the university’s policy of giving automatic “admission points” to underrepresented minorities as “not narrowly tailored” enough. By contrast, the court deemed acceptable in Grutter v. Bollinger (a case involving a different AA policy at the U of M’s law school) affirmative action policies which take race into account as a “soft” variable alongside other factors of comparable weight. Justice O’Connor’s majority opinion deserves excerption:

(d) The Law School’s admissions program bears the hallmarks of a narrowly tailored plan. To be narrowly tailored, a race-conscious admissions program cannot “insulat[e] each category of applicants with certain desired qualifications from competition with all other appli-cants.” Bakke, supra, at 315 (opinion of Powell, J.). Instead, it may consider race or ethnicity only as a “ ‘plus’ in a particular applicant’s file”; i.e., it must be “flexible enough to consider all pertinent elements of diversity in light of the particular qualifications of each applicant, and to place them on the same footing for consideration, although not necessarily according them the same weight,” id., at 317. It follows that universities cannot establish quotas for members of certain racial or ethnic groups or put them on separate admissions tracks. See id., at 315–316. The Law School’s admissions program, like the Harvard plan approved by Justice Powell, satisfies these requirements. Moreover, the program is flexible enough to ensure that each applicant is evaluated as an individual and not in a way that makes race or ethnicity the defining feature of the application. See Bakke, supra, at 317 (opinion of Powell, J.). The Law School engages in a highly individualized, holistic review of each applicant’s file, giving serious consideration to all the ways an applicant might contribute to a diverse educational environment. There is no policy, either de jure or de facto, of automatic acceptance or rejection based on any single “soft” variable.

Of course, the SCOTUS only said that such allowances were permissible, not mandatory. Michigan’s Prop 2 would completely remove both race and sex from all hiring and admissions practices in its public organizations, much as California has done in its public university system. Surprisingly enough, the New York Times reports that business and labor interests, along with the Democratic gubernatorial incumbent and her GOP challenger, all oppose the initiative. But black conservative activist and noted AA opponent Ward Connerly supports it, predictably, as do many of the state’s less liberal residents, who, according to no less an authority than Ms. Gratz herself, “think their husbands, their wives, their kids, should be treated equally by our government, and should not be judged on race or sex.”

My personal opinion on the matter is that we haven’t yet reached that long-promised apex of American social comity at which race and sex will cease to fetter the dreams of minorities and women. Thus, some consideration of race (and sex under some circumstances) at the admissions level is more than appropriate, especially for public universities, who draw their funds from and are thus obligated to serve all their states’ citizens. Connerly would beg to differ, I’m sure: “‘As John F. Kennedy said . . . race has no place in public life.'” I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this viewpoint is at odds with the preponderance of black public opinion, but he may very well have his finger on the pulse of Michigan’s white electorate.

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Published on October 31, 2006 at 1:41 pm. 6 Comments.
Filed under academia,affirmative action.