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Now the most hostile court in decades is targeting affirmative action

affirmative action

Just when you think it can’t get any worse…it does.

Most of the recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court have been consistent with the expectation of a conservative stacked deck. With very few exceptions, there is little mystery in the card that they choose to play.

To say that this court is partisan or political would be a gross understatement. The “Big Six” are downright adversarial when it comes to matters that relate to the impoverished, disenfranchised or people of color.

There is little guess work in the outcome of decisions brought before this particular court. With the last three Justices appointed by the most racist chief executive in modern history, their pull to the right is so tough that if they were a vehicle, they would be in serious need of wheel alignment.

With all that these conservative activists have already done, there is no evidence that they are even approaching a point of completing their conspicuous mission of turning back the hands of time for a major segment of this nation’s population.

Now the latest battlefront is affirmative action.

The Supreme Court this week appeared ready to rule that the race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina were unlawful, based on questioning over five hours of vigorous and sometimes testy arguments, a move that would overrule decades of precedents.

Such a decision would jeopardize affirmative action at colleges and universities around the nation, particularly elite white institutions, decreasing the representation of Black and Latino students and bolstering the number of white and Asian cohorts.

Questioning from members of the court’s six-Justice conservative majority was sharp and skeptical.

“I’ve heard the word diversity quite a few times, and I don’t have a clue what it means,” Justice Clarence Thomas said.

“It seems to mean everything for everyone.” Never mind that Thomas benefited from affirmative action in his career.

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., asked a similar question about the term “underrepresented minority.” He pretended not to know what the phrase even means, as learned as a member of the highest court in the land should be. He added that college admissions are “a zero-sum game,” in which granting advantages to one group necessarily disadvantages another.

At the other end of the ledger are three fair-minded Justices who will undoubtedly exert all their intellectual energy to battle the odds and sensitize their far right-wing colleagues on the bench. Their arguments are sensible and well-conceived.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said it would be odd if admissions officers could consider factors like whether applicants were parents, veterans or disabled, but not if they were members of racial minorities. That has “the potential of causing more of an equal protection problem than it’s actually solving,” she said.

Justice Elena Kagan said she was worried about “a precipitous decline in minority admissions,” if the court were to rule against affirmative action in higher education. “These are the pipelines to leadership in our society,” she said of elite universities.

There may be some glimmers of hope.

Over the course of the argument, the justices discussed with seeming approval several kinds of race-neutral approaches: preferences based on socioeconomic status; so-called top-10 programs, which admit students who graduate near the top of their high school classes; and the elimination of preferences for children of alumni and major donors, who tend to be white.

But the over-arching sentiment is painfully clear. They are coming for affirmative action and coming hard.

The part that gets me is, what better could a young person of color be doing but trying to advance his or her education. So many issues that vex both liberal and conservatives could be substantially fixed with a higher quality of life for a broader swatch of our nation’s population.

But the kind of elitism that challenges affirmative action doesn’t bother to frame issues in the big picture. The underlying principle is, “if it’s good for THEM…it’s

hurting US.” What a world it would be if we found a larger WE spot, a place of common interests and pursuits; a heart for the common good.

But that’s not near the temperament of the Divided States of America. And unfortunately, most signs hint that it is going to get worse, much worse, before it gets better. No matter how logical their premise, how documented their evidence… I pray that such prognosticators are wrong.


Vernon A. Williams
Vernon A. Williams

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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