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Should Affirmative Action be Socioeconomically Based?

Blog Category: Affirmative Action

By: Patrick Gallo*

The landmark case of Grutter v. Bollinger solidified the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions.  In Grutter, the Supreme Court held that “… the Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the [University of Michigan] Law School’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”[1]  The Supreme Court limited such a ruling to a finite period of twenty-five years, suggesting that one day race would no longer be a metaphorical hurdle to opportunity.[2] Specifically, in Grutter, the University of Michigan Law School employed an individualized “holistic review” of law school applicants, awarding a “plus” to minority students in order to achieve a “critical mass” of minority students and promote “…’cross-racial understanding’ … to break down racial stereotypes, and ‘enable… [students] to better understand persons of different races….’”[3]

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Grutter is being revisited in Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin and consequently has placed affirmative action on the chopping block.  The premise underlying affirmative action is that “[y]ou do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race … and then say, ‘[y]ou are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”[4]

Deborah Archer, a law professor at New York Law School, argues that race-conscious admissions programs need to be continued because “[r]ace-conscious admissions programs…are designed to overcome the systemic racism and serve as a vital pipeline to educational and professional opportunities for minority students.”[5]

David Sacks and Peter Thiel contend, however, that “[t]he basic problem is that a racist past cannot be undone through more racism. Race-conscious programs betray Martin Luther King’s dream of a color-blind community, and the heightened racial sensitivity they cause is a source of acrimony and tension instead of healing.”[6]    Sacks and Thiel further maintain that race-conscious programs do not help the disadvantaged, but rather, “primarily benefit minority applicants from [the] middle- and upper-class” while “hurt[ing] poor whites and even many Asians….”[7]  Thus, Sacks and Thiel conclude that “[i]f preferences were truly meant to remedy disadvantage, they would be given on the basis of disadvantage, not on the basis of race.”[8]

Via Fisher, the Supreme Court can preserve its milestone decision in Grutter, or vitiate it altogether and with it, affirmative action.  Alternatively, Fisher also provides the Supreme Court with an opportunity to carve out a new kind of affirmative action that is socioeconomically based.  Such would be appropriate considering that today’s greatest metaphorical hurdle and impediment to success is arguably one’s socioeconomic status rather than one’s race.[9]

 

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.

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*Patrick Gallo is one of the Articles Editor on the Widener Journal of Law, Economics and Race. To learn more about Patrick Gallo, click here to view his page: Patrick Gallo

[1] Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 343 (2003).

[2] See id. at 343.

[3] Id. at 330.

[4] David Leonhardt, Rethinking Affirmative Action, NY TIMES, Oct. 13, 2012 (quoting a 1965 speech of President Lyndon B. Johnson “that laid the groundwork for affirmative action”), available at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/14/sunday-review/rethinking-affirmative-action.html?pagewanted=all.

[5] Deborah Archer, Why We Need Race-Conscious Admissions, THE NATIONAL JURIST, Oct. 2012, Vol. 22, No. 2, p. 13.

[6] David Sacks & Peter Theil, The Case Against Affirmative Action, STANFORD MAGAZINE, available at http://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=43448.

[7] Id. (citing Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution).

[8] Id.

[9] See Rachel Potucek, Affirmative action: Pros and Cons, K-STATE PERSPECTIVE, Fall 2003 (quoting Professors Krishna Tummala and John Fliter), available at http://www.k-state.edu/media/webzine/0203/aapros&cons.html; see also Leonhardt, supra, Rethinking Affirmative Action; Spencer Lindsay, Status, Not Race, Should Be Basis of Affirmative Action, THE BADGER HERALD, Apr. 25, 2012, available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-badger-herald/status-not-race-should-be_b_1455359.html.

For more information concerning the foregoing topic you can visit the following:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57529223/supreme-court-takes-up-affirmative-action/?pageNum=2&tag=page

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-06-17-diversity17_ST_N.htm

 

 

 

 

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