Wednesday, the constitutionality of the use of affirmative action will be debated in the U.S. Supreme Court. Due to the composition of the Supreme Court, the potential racial discrimination currently allowed by affirmative action in higher education admissions may very well cease to exist.
This court case has special importance to me because I am in the midst of applying to law school, trying to fulfill my lifelong dream of earning my Juris Doctorate and serving the American public.
The fact of the matter is that if the allowance of race as a determining factor in admissions is abolished before my application is processed, I have a better chance of getting into law school.
If the color of my skin is no longer taken into consideration, I have a better shot at achieving my dream.
I believe — as previous Supreme Court rulings have established — that diversity is an integral part of creating a stimulating learning environment.
But the idea that the color of my skin is a detriment to my application to law school is abhorrent, and is supported neither by the Constitution nor subsequent Supreme Court rulings.
In Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke in 1978, the Supreme Court found UC Davis Medical School’s admissions policies unconstitutional when it set aside spaces for racial minorities — but the court also recognized that diversity is a legitimate goal of admissions.
Justice Powell, however, when writing the majority opinion for UC vs. Bakke, 1978, emphasized the importance of considering each particular applicant as an individual, assessing all of the qualities an individual possesses and evaluating that individual’s contribution to the unique setting of higher education.
In Gratz vs. Bollinger, 2003, the Supreme Court found that the University of Michigan’s admissions policy of automatically distributing 20 points, or one-fifth of the points needed to guarantee admission to every “underrepresented minority” applicant solely because of race violates the Equal Protection Clause.
On the exact same day as that ruling, though, the Supreme Court also delivered their decision on the University of Michigan affirmative action case Grutter vs. Bollinger, ruling that attempting to achieve a “critical mass” of racial minority students who might be otherwise excluded does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment because it is narrowly tailored to achieve the school’s desired goals.
This idea of attempting to achieve a “critical mass” of racial minority students is the focal point of Wednesday’s Supreme Court case. But the composition of the Supreme Court has changed a lot since the ruling on Grutter in 2003 — where Justice Kennedy joined three conservatives in dissent to the ruling, and wrote his own dissent separately as well.
“Preferment by race, when resorted to by the state, can be the most divisive of all policies,” wrote Justice Kennedy in 2003, “containing within it the potential to destroy confidence in the Constitution and in the idea of equality.”
On Wednesday, Justice Kennedy will lead the charge in what is anticipated to be a 5-3 vote, where affirmative action could be radically changed or ruled unconstitutional altogether.
I agree with Justice Kennedy; using race as a determining factor of admissions stands in stark contradiction to the Equal Protection Clause and undermines the integrity of our Constitution.
I believe that diversity is a critical and valuable part of higher education, and that diversity is indeed a valid goal of admissions — this has long been established by the Supreme Court.
But a person’s admittance based on diversity should be measured on an individual basis, not under the general categorical assumptions of skin color and race — as multiple Supreme Court decisions have affirmed.
When measuring an individual’s contribution to a diverse learning environment, we should be measuring them based on the content of their character rather than the boxes they check on their application.
Diversity should be measured by examining differing cultural experiences and unique worldviews, not on whether the applicant’s skin is colorful enough for the front page of a school’s admissions pamphlet.
Affirmative action was created with the best intentions, but the reality of its consequences are that my race is a detriment to my law school application and a potential impediment to my future. This isn’t reverse discrimination — it’s discrimination.
Affirmative action — as first put into effect by J.F.K. — was intended to combat injustice, not to create it. If we are trying to help the socioeconomically disadvantaged, then we should base preferable admissions on a candidate’s financial capabilities, not on race.
If the only thing that prevents me from achieving my dream is the color of my skin, how can anybody tell me that I am not a victim of discrimination? Where is my protection under the Equal Protection Clause?
Editorial Editor Kevin Jensen is a senior English major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kevinrjensen.
For the full transcript of the Supreme Court’s debate about Affirmative Action, click here.