In 2008, Abigail Fisher filed a lawsuit against the University of Texas after being denied undergraduate admission to the University of Texas at Austin.
Fisher, a White woman claimed that the university unfairly rejected her because of its Affirmative Action policy. The university responded to these allegations in defense of its policy of affirmative action, saying that it considers a variety of factors “as well as race and ethnicity” in the interest of diversity for educational benefit.
District courts upheld the policy, and the appeals court denied Fisher’s appeal. Fisher and her legal council went on to appeal the United States Supreme Court for a review of the case. The Supreme Court ruled that lower courts should have looked more closely at the case to determine the necessity of the policy, to ensure that it is being used very narrowly after all other factors have been considered for the “educational benefits of the university.”
Fisher was granted a second appeal last month, in order for lower courts to examine the case as the Supreme Court had ordered.
While the educational benefits that diversity can bring are certainly important, they aren’t the original purpose of Affirmative Action.
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed the graduating class at Howard University and spoke on the merits and necessity of the newly introduced concept of Affirmative Action.
In his speech, he said, “You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying you are free to compete with all the others, and still justly believe you have been completely fair”.
His speech at Howard shows that Johnson viewed Affirmative Action as a way to combat the negative effects of racial segregation and discrimination.
The President realized that it would be difficult for the victims of this injustice to integrate into a de-segregated society without programs designed to ease the transition; one of which being Affirmative Action.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court decision has shown that Affirmative Action is no longer viewed in its original context.
The interest of educational benefits seems to have overshadowed the interest of correcting the disparity in opportunity among racial groups in America.
When the Court said that the policy should only be used for the purpose of educational benefits, they failed to express the role of Affirmative Action as a means of correcting a moral wrong. And also, by declaring that Affirmative Action should be more of a last resort (i.e. “when all other factors have been considered”) rather than a chance to provide equal opportunity, they discourage colleges from using the policy at all.
This paves the way for a system in which race plays no role in college admissions.
A race blind admissions system is certainly ideal, however in America today, it wouldn’t equally benefit all students.
Unfortunately, American society is not ready for a completely race-blind system, and we see the effects that such as system can have in the of University of California, where race-blind admissions has caused the representation of certain minority groups to drop significantly since the ban of Affirmative Action.
The Court realizes that race is not a factor that “should” need to be considered in college admissions, but so far, no available alternative would have the same effect.
There is an alarmingly high number of people in America today that are afflicted by the very same disadvantages that Affirmative Action originally aimed to correct; therefore the moral rationality of the policy is still very important.
In a previous Supreme Court ruling of another Affirmative Action case, Grutter v. Bollinger, then-Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today”.
Unfortunately, those 25 years have not passed yet, and it is important that we remember the original intentions of Affirmative Action; because in many parts of America, those same intentions are just as relevant and necessary now as they ever were.
Jordan Mosley is a student at Columbia University in New York City, NY.