As reported in the New York Times,
In a 2003 decision (Grutter v. Bollinger) that the majority said it expected would last for 25 years, the Supreme Court allowed public colleges and universities to take account of race in admission decisions...[T]he court signaled that it might end such affirmative action much sooner than that.The University of Texas clearly satisfied the requirements of Grutter by implementing a multi-factor admission policy. The top ten percent of all Texas high school graduates are automatically admitted to the university. They make up 88% percent of the students admitted.
By agreeing to hear a major case (Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin) involving race-conscious admissions at the University of Texas, the court thrust affirmative action back into the public and political discourse after years in which it had mostly faded from view. Both supporters and opponents of affirmative action said they saw the announcement — and the change in the court’s makeup since 2003 — as a signal that the court’s five more conservative members might be prepared to do away with racial preferences in higher education...
The consequences of such a decision would be striking. It would, all sides agree, reduce the number of African-American and Latino students at nearly every selective college and graduate school, with more Asian-American and white students gaining entrance instead...
Ms. Fisher is soon to graduate from Louisiana State University. Lawyers for the University of Texas said that meant she had not suffered an injury that a court decision could address, meaning she does not have standing to sue.
Ms. Fisher’s argument is that Texas cannot have it both ways. Having implemented a race-neutral program to increase minority admissions, she says, Texas may not supplement it with a race-conscious one. Texas officials said the additional effort was needed to make sure that individual classrooms contained a “critical mass” of minority students.
The remainder are admitted using a multi-factor admission policy. Race is just one of many factors that the university considers. As noted in the Fifth Circuit's decision, the school considers standardized test scores, high school class rank, essays, "leadership qualities, awards and honors, work experience,...extracurricular activities and community service...socio-economic status of applicant and his or her high school and...the applicant's race."
That is not reverse discrimination. For decades, as documented in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Sweatt v. Painter, the University of Texas deliberately denied qualified African Americans admission solely because of their race. Today, vast inequities continue to exist between affluent, suburban white public school districts and poor, urban minority school districts. Affirmative action is a means to remedy the continuing impact of that despicable legacy. In the words of President Lyndon Johnson, "You 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 you are free to compete with all the others, and still just believe that you have been completely fair." (Source: Leadership Conference)
Clearly, by deciding to hear this case, the Supreme Court is sending a clear message. The days of affirmative action are numbered. The legacy of Brown is in jeopardy. If we do not act, we may witness the re-segregation of higher education. While doors to higher education close to black people, the doors to prison remain wide open. As stated in the Fifth Circuit's opinion, the African American enrollment rate at the University of Texas dropped almost 40 percent when the university ended its prior affirmative action program in 1996. According to a June 2005 Social Science Quarterly study, at elite universities:
"....without affirmative action the acceptance rate for African-American candidates likely would fall nearly two-thirds, from 33.7 percent to 12.2 percent, while the acceptance rate for Hispanic applicants likely would be cut in half, from 26.8 percent to 12.9 percent. While these declines are dramatic, the authors note that the long-term impact could be worse."It would be tragic and ironic if affirmative action ends while a black man is in the White House. We cannot passively allow that to happen. Certainly, civil rights law organizations will file amicus briefs in favor of affirmative action. However, the legal strategy is only one aspect of the struggle.
We cannot let affirmative action die without a fight. We must protest in the streets, on the college campuses, on the airways and on the blogosphere immediately. We must do everything in power to educate the public about the benefits of diversity and affirmative action. We cannot afford to wait until the US Supreme Court begins to hear oral arguments. We must act now! We must defend affirmative action!
This article is cross-posted on Jack and Jill Politics.