Next on the Supreme Court’s chopping block: race-based affirmative action in higher education

By S. Hennessy Machado-Hidalgo

The United States Supreme Court shouldn’t overturn precedent allowing universities to consider race in their admissions process.

SCOTUS heard oral arguments for Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina on October 31.

SFFA is a nonprofit organization that advocates against the consideration of race and ethnicity in college admissions processes. It is headed by conservative legal strategist Edward Blum. 

Even though Americans across the political spectrum may agree with this view, the consequences of SCOTUS ruling on race-based affirmative action is something the majority of Americans should be wary of. 

In 2006, Black students at the University of California, Los Angeles said Proposition 209 was why only 96 out of approximately 5,000 accepted undergraduate students were Black.

The percentage of Black students had not been that low since 1973.

Proposition 209 was passed in 1996 and prohibited the consideration of race or ethnicity for employment, contracting and education at public institutions. 

Rogelia Garcia, associate professor of Political Science at East Los Angeles College, said, “The purpose of affirmative action has been to undo centuries of systematic racial disparities… Institutions of higher education are the stepping stones to generating generational wealth.”

Part of the fabric of American values is to work towards greater equality of opportunity. 

Race-based affirmative action is certainly not a permanent solution. 

The court’s majority opinion regarding the case that set the precedent on race-based affirmative action, Grutter v. Bolinger, acknowledges this.

However, the Court’s opinion that race-based affirmative action should no longer be allowed at institutions of higher education by 2028 is an insufficient timeline.

Michael Sigman, professor of Philosophy at ELAC, said, “Affirmative action still has a viable place in the selection process because the aims of affirmative action programs have never been fully realized.  

“There are still too many back channel admissions taking away slots that could, and should, be going to students of color.”

SFFA has often stated Asian Americans are students of color that are negatively impacted by race-based affirmative action.

David Song, Professor of Asian American studies at ELAC, said, “It’s important to understand that the Asian American student population is not a monolith; it’s diverse, including in terms of class and ethnicity to name a few factors. 

“Polls have shown that Asian Americans, as a whole, support goals of affirmative action. Yet, a vocal minority has become highly visible in attempts to dismantle such programs. 

“Affirmative action can benefit underrepresented populations, including within Asian American communities.”

During the oral arguments heard by SCOTUS on October 31, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar presented meaningful metrics aside from racial quotas that could be used to measure the success of race-based affirmative action.

Prelogar said universities could:

Compare student demographics’ graduation vs. attrition rates.

Review whether a class has the opportunity for cross-racial understanding.

Attain student testimonies regarding their experiences with diversity during their attendance.

If universities are able to use these metrics then race-based affirmative action programs do have an end in sight. 

Unfortunately, needing race-based affirmative action just might be further out than 2028. 

Jeffrey Hernandez, Academic Senate President and professor of Political Science at ELAC, said, “The Supreme Court justices that oppose affirmative action seek to ignore the barriers to diversity.”

The Supreme Court should not overturn the protection universities have to use race-based affirmative action as a tool for diversifying admissions. 

Each university has different histories and surrounding communities that impact how and when a university can reach admissions that more accurately represent qualified students of all racial backgrounds.

The court should uphold this protection so that higher education institutions can approach their goals of equal opportunity admission in the way most appropriate for their unique institution.

Upholding such protection does not mean universities have to have race-based affirmative action policies, it just means they have the option to use the policies.

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