In the grand scheme of things, it was not too long ago in our nation’s history that Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his now-famous words, “I have a dream.” And, indeed, there are many who believe that this dream has been (or is close to being) realized, at least in many areas of the country. However, there are many who believe that, at least in other parts of the country, the dream is not yet here. These competing viewpoints came front-and-center this week in the United States Supreme Court case of Shuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.
Sparing you an exhaustive history of racial equality in the United States, we will fast forward to the year 1978 and the Supreme Court case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978). At issue in that case was the use of “affirmative action” in college admission policies. Affirmative action, known by some as positive discrimination, is the act of or policy of favoring individuals of historically disadvantaged or discriminated against groups. In Bakke, the United States Supreme Court stated it was unconstitutional to set racial quotas for college admission classes (an example would be to say that 20% of the incoming class has to be of a certain minority group), but that it is constitutional to consider race as one of many legitimate factors when considering an individual for admission.
Certainly, there are many arguments for and against affirmative action. One argument for affirmative action is that, as a nation, we have placed groups of citizens at a disadvantage and so we must affirmatively level the playing field. One argument against affirmative action is that two wrongs do not make a right (discriminating does not cure past discrimination). Hopefully the goal being that one day race will not be an issue at all (whether belong to the camp of people who believe that day is here or near, or to the camp of people who believe we still have a ways to go, is another issue).
Fast forwarding to this past Tuesday, the Supreme Court decided in the case of Schuette that states are also at liberty to pass laws outlawing schools from considering race at all when considering an individual for admission. Essentially, schools may still consider race as a factor, but only if it is in a state where the people have not voted that race should not be a factor. As summarized by Justice Kennedy, “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it. “
Sources included: click to read the full opinion of Shuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action; click to read the full opinion of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke; SCOTUSBlog.com; “U.S. Supreme Court gives states freedom to prohibit use of affirmative action for school admissions,” and article by Robert Barnes of the Washington Post; “The Case For Affirmative Action,” by Charles J. Ogeltree, Jr.; and “The Case Against Affirmative Action,” by David Sacks and Peter Thiel.
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