Will high court ban racial preferences?

  • Students participate in an Oct. 9 rally to promote diversity on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. (MELANIE MAXWELL / Ann Arbor News)

This editorial is from the Los Angeles Times:

In 2006, Michigan voters banned affirmative action at the state's public universities. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments challenging that ban. If you support affirmative action, you must hope that the court will strike it down, right?

Alas, it's not that simple. This case isn't about whether state universities may provide preferential treatment in their admissions policies. Rather, the question is whether the voters of Michigan violated the U.S. Constitution when they amended the state constitution to say that universities “shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.” That is a much harder question.

We support affirmative action and opposed Proposition 209, the California ban on racial preferences on which the Michigan amendment was modeled. Racial preferences at highly selective public universities ensure a modicum of racial diversity at those institutions, and they make it possible for students from groups that historically have been victims of discrimination to move into leadership positions in society. The value of such policies is demonstrated by California's experience after the adoption of Proposition 209 in 1996. As the Los Angeles Times reported this year, African-American freshmen at UCLA dropped from 7.1 percent of the class in 1995 to 3.6 percent in 2012. At UC Berkeley, African-Americans made up 6.3 percent of freshmen in 1995 and 3.4 percent last fall.

Affirmative action policies also have passed muster at the Supreme Court. In June, in a case involving the University of Texas, the court made it clear that judges must scrutinize affirmative action programs to ensure that “no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.” But if a university can meet that stringent test, racial preferences are permissible.

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