Editor’s note: Melissa toughed out Sunday’s two-hour broadcast with laryngitis, but doing so meant the sacrifice of some of her longer segment introductions. Below is the essay which she intended to deliver prior to our discussion of affirmative action, and the very important reason it is back in the news this week.
All eyes will be on the Supreme Court this Wednesday as the justices hear arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas. That’s the case which is putting the often challenged practice of Affirmative Action front and center. It’s not the first time the court has presided over a case involving affirmative action. However, this is a conservative leaning court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts. And only eight justices will be deciding the outcome as Justice Elena Kagan recused herself. So, this could be the case that potentially eradicates the practice of affirmative action from the college admissions process.
And In an age, where we have a black president, some may ask, do we even need affirmative action anymore? To answer that question, we only have to go back a few short decades.
While the 1954 Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education changed the educational landscape for students of color, and Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy took small steps to address affirmative action during their terms, it was President Lyndon Johnson ushering forth the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – and then issuing an executive order in 1965 that enforced affirmative action for government contractors for the first time.
Universities and colleges followed suit and began to include affirmative action in their admissions procedures in order to diversify their student bodies. But with affirmative action’s implementation in higher education a number of challenges against the policy have arisen.
In 1978, Allan Bakke, a white medical-school applicant, said he was denied admittance to the University of California because affirmative action made room for less qualified minority applicants. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled against the use of racial quotas in the admission process because it was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment. However, the Court did say that race could still be considered as one of many factors.
And In 2003, there was both Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger.
The first case focused on affirmative action in the undergraduate admissions process, while the second looked at law school admissions, both at the University of Michigan.
This time the Supreme Court ruled that the use of affirmative action in the undergraduate process was *un*constitutional, but upheld the school’s policy for law school admissions.
Now, there’s Abigail Fisher.
In 2008, she was denied admittance to the University of Texas at Austin. In Texas, the top 10% of high school graduating classes enjoy automatic admission to the state University system. Fisher didn’t make that cut, so she was assessed based on a formula for which race is one part of the equation to consider admitting the applicant to the institution.
Fisher’s suit charges that race shouldn’t be part of the process at all because it violates the Equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. And that’s what the Supreme Court will now rule on, whether race should be a factor in admitting students to school.
This ruling could change the face of higher education as we know it and possibly reverse the successes of affirmative action has achieved. Since the late 1980s, the total college enrollment of students of color has increased by 57.2%. And the number of degrees earned by Native Americans rose 151.9% between 1981 and 2001.
That’s progress, folks. This is a policy that works.
Make no mistake. The end of affirmative action in higher education would have dramatic, immediate and negative consequences for the egalitarian progress we have made in the past thirty years. We certainly shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we’re past needing affirmative action when so much inequality still exists.
Video of the first third of our look at the Fisher case and affirmative action, featuring panelists Kenji Yoshino, Robert Traynham, Chloe Angyal, and Debo Adegbile, is below. The rest of the discussion can be found either in the carousel above or at our msnbc video hub.