Supreme Court to Determine Constitutionality of Affirmative Action

Supreme Court to Determine Constitutionality of Affirmative Action

When I was discharged from the United States Air Force in 1965, I was hired by Hughes Aircraft a few months later.  The only reason I got the job was because my mother had worked there for years.  Affirmative Action was the rule of the day for any business serving the government.  Hughes was involved in production of missiles, and the first Surveyor.

First consideration for employment had to be given to minorities and women.

I never thought much about it then.  I had been stationed in Mississippi so I was definitely aware of prejudice and hatred directed towards African-Americans.  One third of my high school was comprised of African-Americans, at least 10% Hispanic, and a number of Asian-Americans.  So, when it came to getting a job, especially in Los Angeles, I naturally thought everyone received an equal opportunity.

Time went by, and I learned that the civil rights movement hadn’t ended.  I read that businesses, athletics, and institutions of higher learning had disproportionate numbers when analyzed ethnically.  This even occurred in states and cities where the minority population exceeded those of Caucasians.  I began to understand the need for Affirmative Action.  But, does that need exist today?

That’s what the Supreme Court is looking at this week.

The Justices will decide if a law passed by Michigan voters in 2006 giving the legal right to bar the state’s public colleges and universities from considering race or ethnicity in admissions is Constitutional.  They are also looking at another case in Texas which is similar.

They are presently looking at the Fisher v.University of Texas which questions whether colleges and universities can give preferential treatment to racial minorities in the admissions process. A ruling on that case is expected sometime between now and June.  The Michigan case was scheduled for October, and the ruling on that case would not have happened until next year.  It’s unusual for the Court to hear a case before it was scheduled.  Some legal experts believe they are having difficulty making their decision and are comparing the two.

In both cases, a lower court has ruled in favor of affirmative action.

Whatever the decision, it will affect universities all over the nation.  In some states it will have little effect.  For example, in Texas, state supported universities automatically accept the top 10% from each high school.  Some of the state’s high schools are nearly all African American or Hispanic.

Minorities have complained in some states that if they are outside of the top 10%, without affirmative action they would not receive equal consideration.  Caucasians say that even though they may have scored higher on their SAT’s and held a better GPA, they are excluded because of affirmative action.

Lawyers for the Legal Defense Fund of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People said the Michigan case “raises an entirely distinct issue” from the challenge to affirmative action in the Texas case. They said the ballot proposition amended the state constitution and thereby barred citizens from working in the Legislature or at the university in favor of diversity policies.

“We trust that the U.S. Supreme Court will reaffirm the bedrock constitutional principle that our democratic processes must be open and accessible to all citizens,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, the defense fund’s president. She said the percentage of African American undergraduates at the University of Michigan had fallen from 6.7% in 2006 to 4.5% in 2010 after the enactment of Proposal 2.  (Reported the Los Angeles Times.)

Who will be included, and who will be excluded from receiving higher education from state colleges and universities?  It’s a complex question.

So much has changed since the 1960’s, but a lot has stayed the same.  The 2010 census gave us the fact that in our nation’s larger cities minorities are, or soon will be the majority in population.  There was a greater change in the ten years than forecast.  30% more women are graduating from college than men.  The number of athletic scholarships give to African-American men and women has increased.

Statistics don’t lie, but they don’t always give us the complete truth.  Personally, I’m a “merit” man.  But I grew up with lots of friends who were African-American and would never have received equal consideration of their college applications if affirmative action had not existed.

James Turnage

Columnist-The Guardian Express

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