Greenwich Academy Press

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Greenwich Academy Press

Greenwich Academy Press

Affirmative Action: Here to Stay?

On Tuesday April 22, the United States Supreme Court ruled six to two to uphold Proposal Two, an amendment that bans the use of race in the college admission process at Michigan public universities. The main implication of this case, Schuette v Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, is that it might encourage other states to enact similar provisions that could harm minority groups.

According to American historian and New York Times writer Sam Tanenhaus, “The term affirmative action originated in the Kennedy-Johnson years and was meant to improve job opportunities for minorities.” After realizing that a decent education was the key factor in getting a better job, the affirmative action program shifted to focus on giving students from nonwhite backgrounds an advantage in the college admissions process.

The first case to challenge affirmative action reached the Supreme Court in 1978. In this case, Allan Bakke, a white male who had been rejected from the University of California, Davis, medical school two years in a row, claimed that because of the university’s different admissions process for minority applicants, minority applicants less qualified than he were more likely to be admitted to the medical school.

Although the ultimate verdict was that UC Davis had unfairly discriminated against Mr. Bakke, the Supreme Court technically still supported affirmative action.

Over the past thirty-six years, multiple other cases concerning affirmative action, such as Gratz v Bollinger, Grutter v Bollinger, and Fisher v University of Texas this past June have addressed the varying issues associated with using race as part of the college admissions process.

The recent Schuette v Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action conflict began in 2006 after fifty-eight percent of Michigan voters supported the passage of Proposal Two. According to The New York Times, the purpose of this amendment to the state constitution was “to prohibit discrimination or preferential treatment in public education, government contracting and public employment.”

It was the first part of this clause that led affirmative action advocates to sue the state of Michigan, which was represented by Michigan Attorney General, William Schuette.

The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action argued that states that have banned affirmative action have lower enrollment rates of African Americans and Hispanics. The percentage of college-aged African Americans in the state of Michigan is much greater than the percentage of African Americans actually enrolled at a state school.

According to The New York Times, there is a fifteen percent gap between enrollment and the college-aged African American population at the University of Michigan; this gap is seven percentage points at Michigan State University. Though the gap between enrollment and the college-aged Hispanic population at both universities was relatively low, it still did drop after Proposal Two was enacted.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was one of two dissenting justices, argued that Proposal Two was unconstitutional. She pointed out that it is unfair to ban affirmative action but continue to give athletic recruits, legacy students, and students from underrepresented parts of Michigan state an advantage when applying to public universities.

This discrepancy, Sotomayor feels, violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause. Sotomayor added that we cannot forget the United States’ history of discrimination via Jim Crow laws and slavery when looking at the role of affirmative action in today’s society.

Though the majority of the Justices thought that Proposal Two should be upheld, the rationale behind supporting the Proposal varied within this majority.

Schuette v Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action was clearly a divisive case that represents how issues of race still plague the United States. For better or worse, the vast majority of universities in the US today do not consider race in the admissions process.


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Affirmative Action: Here to Stay?