Guy W. Farmer: The end of affirmative action?
I applaud a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down race-based admissions policies at the University of Michigan and other public universities, including the University of Nevada.
I agree with this 6-2 Court decision because I don’t believe that the best way to remedy possible racial discrimination in university admissions policies is to engage in government-sanctioned discrimination. And besides, the justices accepted the result of a statewide referendum in Michigan in which 58 percent of that state’s voters opposed race-based admissions policies. The majority opinion held that this ruling didn’t concern the merits of racial preferences but rather, it was about who should decide the merits — the courts or the voters? They came down on the side of the voters. Good for them.
In 2006 Michigan voters decided to amend their state constitution to forbid giving “preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin,” which sounds fair to me. That’s why I think Nevada voters should approve a similar amendment.
In the current case liberal Justice Stephen Breyer voted with the majority. In the opinion of nationally syndicated columnist George Will, “Because Breyer believes that democracy — the right of majorities to have their way — trumps most competing values most of the time, he is generally deferential to the preferences of (state) legislatures … and the results of a popular referendum.” I think that’s a no-brainer but ultra-liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who benefited from affirmative action, issued a blistering 58-page dissent urging the Court to adopt “race-sensitive admissions policies.” Will called her opinion “a tangled web woven of euphemisms.”
Carrying out race-based admissions policies is the peaceful equivalent of walking through a dangerous mine field. The key question is who gets preferences and who doesn’t. For example, why shouldn’t Asian Americans receive admissions preferences along with African Americans, Hispanics and other racial minorities? All minorities should be treated equally. Right?
At my alma mater, the University of Washington in Seattle, Asian Americans are the stars of the show. They’re already far ahead of all other minorities on campus — including “white” Americans (whatever that means) — in terms of academic achievement. But they’re a minority of the general population, so shouldn’t they receive preferences too?
Nevertheless, some so-called “progressives” continue to push for racial preferences. In California, where voters rejected race preferences in university admissions in 1996, left-wing lawmakers are trying to overturn the will of the voters. State Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-Covina) proposed a constitutional amendment permitting college admissions officers to take race into consideration, but he was surprised when Asian-Americans rallied in opposition to his amendment.
He should have expected pushback, however, because Asian-American students are enrolled at many of California’s top schools in numbers far greater than their proportion of the state’s population. Critics of Hernandez’s plan worry that highly qualified Asian students would become victims of race-based admissions policies because of their ethnicity, which isn’t fair.
Liberal columnist Susan Estrich, a University of Southern California law professor, urged state lawmakers to continue the struggle for affirmative action because “we need to keep fighting the stubborn persistence of racial inequality.” OK Prof. Estrich, but you don’t cure discrimination with more discrimination. Case closed.
Guy W. Farmer is the Nevada Appeal’s senior political columnist.