By Aaron Youngblood
Published: Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Monday, Oct. 3rd marked the commencement of the Supreme Court term. During the nine-month term the Court will hear a variety of cases that relate to different areas of constitutional law. These different topics will not only affect laws but also the 2012 presidential elections. According to NPR.org, one topic that could be scheduled for a hearing is affirmative action. This has been a very controversial issue since the late 1970s. The Obama administration has shown support for the law of affirmative action while GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has expressed his views against “quotas in hiring, government contracting, school admissions or the like.”
The topic has been brought before the court many other times especially in matters of education from which the initial case for race as a determining factor began with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS. In these cases, white applicants feel their admission rejections were due to race. Currently there is a new issue of affirmative action before the United States Supreme Court. In the case that may be heard before the highest court in the world, Fisher v. the University of Texas Austin, two white female applicants were denied admission to the university for reasons speculated to be due to a racial preference of African-American and Hispanic/Latino applicants.
This potentially new Supreme Court case is politically fifty years old. Affirmative action was implemented in 1961 by President Kennedy nearly a decade after the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS. The law requires that all companies funded by the federal government, whether directly or indirectly, has to be free of racial biases. A year after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 President Johnson enforced the law by U.S. Executive Order 11246. The purpose was “to correct the effects of past and present discrimination.” In some instances the Court has upheld policies and ruled against others.
The University of Michigan appeared before the Rehnquist Court to handle the topic simultaneously regarding their undergraduate program and the law school admission policies. The case was ruled 6-3 against the undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) because the court decided that race weighed too much on the school’s “point system” for admissions. In the opinion of the court authored by Justice O’Connor, the policy was upheld 5-4 in the case of the law school (Grutter v. Bollinger) because the court believed the school “narrowly tailored” the use of race in admission decisions. The opinion also states the law school was acting in interest to create “benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” The decision of the court to uphold the matter increased the law school’s Black and Hispanic/Latino population from 4 to 14.5 percent of the student body.
In 2007, before a new court headed by Chief Justice Roberts, two cases of affirmative action were decided together, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education (Louisville, KY). The Court ruled 5-4 prohibiting the assignment of students to certain schools based on race to achieve a goal of racial diversity.
These cases of “reverse discrimination” often arise because companies are afraid to be indicted for the lack of minority students. These public institutions follow the law because they rely on federal funding and would hate to lose it. Will the Supreme Court uphold or rule against the admissions policies in affect at the University of Texas Austin? Critics argue that the school is already racially diverse. According to the Huffington Post, the white population of the school is 52.1 percent of nearly fifty thousand students. Could this ruling lead to the end of affirmative action? Erwin Chermerinsky, a constitutional law expert, believes that affirmative action policies are necessary because without them there would be no diversity in colleges due to the “legacy of discrimination”.