Excerpts From Supreme Court Arguments on Affirmative Action

10 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

5 Things To Read Today: Supreme Court Divided on Affirmative Action, Yahoo Won’t Spin Off Alibaba, And More.

A divided Supreme Court confronted whether policies at the University of Texas at Austin meet the standards for the use of racial preferences in school admissions. American conservatives have been engaged in a long war against the constitutionality of affirmative action at public universities and other institutions.Counting just eligible voters when drawing electoral maps would disenfranchise most of the nation’s Latino population, several Latino leaders are warning. Latino lawmakers and community leaders say that a Supreme Court case which raises the question of whether state electoral districts should be drawn according to total population, or based on just residents who are eligible to vote, threatens to imperil Latinos who are too young to vote or not naturalized citizens.

Three-quarters of UT’s incoming class is automatically admitted through a state law granting admission to the top-ranked high school graduates in Texas. UT has broad backing, but higher education leaders and civil rights groups are concerned that Abigail Fisher, a white woman from Sugar Land who says she was discriminated against when UT rejected her in 2008, could strike a serious blow to affirmative action. The suit is a nuisance suit, it’s poorly argued, it’s disingenuous, it’s been heard before and, to make everything even more bizarre, the plaintiff’s claim to injury is demonstrably untrue. The case is on its second trip to the high court, following a 2013 ruling that reaffirmed its 2003 position approving affirmative action in university admissions. Meanwhile, students who have benefited (or are perceived to have benefited from) such programs have reason to be outraged, after US supreme court Justice Antonin Scalia essentially argued that they might not be equipped to profit from admittance to certain high-quality institutions.

The core of UT’s argument is that it needs to consider race to ensure diversity among its student body — a goal supported by the U.S. government, the country’s biggest businesses, former military leaders and many more, who filed dozens of briefs in UT’s favor. This is a case that should have been laughed out of court years ago, but instead, this is the second time — second time! — it’s being presented in front of the Supreme Court. At stake is the claim made by Abigail Fisher, now 25, who hails from a wealthy suburb of Houston called Sugar Land, that she was deprived of her rightful admission at UT Austin because, in her view, some person of color who didn’t deserve it stole it from her. As the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals observed in its opinion upholding the UT affirmative action program, Fisher almost certainly would not have been admitted even if UT used strictly race-neutral admissions criteria. Abbott that only eligible voters could be regarded when designing electoral maps, it could lead to moves to manipulate who can be classified as an eligible voter, among other things. “Everyone deserves fair and equal representation regardless of voting status or age,” said Cristobal Alex, president of Latino Victory Project, which aims to raise the number of Latino elected officials. “A ruling in favor of Evenwel would deny us fair representation in government and leave approximately 55 percent of Latinos unrepresented and affect many other groups – eroding Latinos’, Asian-Americans’, and African-Americans’ political power.” “We should not create a second class of individuals who are subject to laws written by those who are not accountable or truly representative of the people,” he said.

Bollinger, the court said that public colleges and universities could not use a point system to increase minority enrollment but could take race into account in vaguer ways to ensure academic diversity. Throughout her now seven-year campaign to make the school pay for not letting her in, Fisher has never been able to produce any evidence that the school tossed her application to make room for a less qualified minority applicant.

The court heard arguments on Tuesday in the case, which originated in Texas, on the meaning of the principle of “one person, one vote,” which the court has said requires that political districts be roughly equal in population. Fisher’s GPA and SAT scores weren’t high enough, and she didn’t have enough external accomplishments to convince the school to give her a shot otherwise. He repeatedly referred to (formally) race-neutral means of increasing diversity on campus as possible mitigation, such as the Texas policy that guarantees admission to students finishing in the top 10% of every public high school classes. As Pro Publica explained at the time: It’s true that the university, for whatever reason, offered provisional admission to some students with lower test scores and grades than Fisher.

Meanwhile, three of the four most conservative members of the court reiterated that they oppose affirmative action and would overturn the court’s precedent that it is allowed as a last resort to promote educational diversity. Alito’s questions implied that taking diversity into account when choosing the remaining pool of students did not provide any added value to the university.

With its blindness to all but the single dimension of class rank, the Top Ten Percent Plan came with significant costs to diversity and academic integrity, passing over large numbers of highly qualified minority and non-minority applicants. In a letter to supporters, Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, wrote: “Voting rights experts say that by not counting everyone – including children, unnaturalized immigrants and others who can’t vote – our political system inevitably will become even more skewed toward the political right, because urban areas will lose representation.” When some districts of roughly equal population have dramatically different numbers of eligible voters, shouldn’t Texas “at least give some consideration to this disparity that you have among voters?” Kennedy asked. Several states, including California and Michigan, forbid the practice, and public universities in those states have had a drop in minority admissions.

Nor did they acknowledge the 168 black and Latino students with grades as good as or better than Fisher’s who were also denied entry into the university that year. As she said, Alito’s suggestion would make diversity in higher education “totally dependent upon having racially segregated neighborhoods, racially segregated schools, and it operates as a disincentive for a minority student to step out of that segregated community and attempt to get an integrated education.” I don’t think the solution to the problems with student body diversity can be to set up a system in which not only are minorities going to separate schools, they’re going to inferior schools.

Existing racial inequities inevitably affect students’ grade point averages, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities and the other criteria that selective schools use to choose among applicants. Simply knowing what colleges are looking for itself gives applicants a significant edge, and this knowledge is not equally shared across the socioeconomic spectrum. This time, they’ve tweaked their argument a bit, trying to argue that diversity itself is an illegitimate goal for schools and, to add a bit of extra nastiness sauce to it, they’re claiming that diversity is bad for students of color. But the other 20 percent are determined in a holistic fashion, by looking at grades, extracurricular activities, test scores, writing samples, the usual stuff.

Scalia and Alito were inevitable votes to vote against UT anyway; the vote in doubt is Kennedy, and his arguments didn’t give observers many clues about how he would vote. When you read about this case, it quickly becomes self-evident why the admissions committee didn’t think Fisher had some hidden potential that wasn’t reflected in her grades. The argument that affirmative action programs are the constitutional equivalent of racial classifications intended to uphold a racial caste system has always been weak on both textual and historical grounds.

But when it comes to Fisher, they employ a different assumption, believing, against all evidence to the contrary, that she must be good enough to deserve a spot. There’s a word for casually assuming the worst about people of color while assuming the best, even in the face of contrary evidence, of white people. As the Wall Street Journal liveblog demonstrates, Samuel Alito was arguing from the bench that as long as you have some black students, then you don’t really need to work to make sure that the student body’s diversity is reflexive of the country at large.

But of course, the purpose of universities, especially land grant colleges like UT Austin, is not just about giving white people a good college experience. UT Austin found a way to balance its duty to provide education to improve lives for people, all kinds of people, with their duty to maintain a level of educational excellence.

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