Affirmative Action Under Review
Every year a number of landmark cases come before the U.S. Supreme Court. Last term, the Justices delivered headline rulings on Arizona’s immigration policies and on the Affordable Care Act, and tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear Fisher v. the University of Texas, the latest challenge to affirmative action to be heard at the nation’s highest court. Fisher v. UT carries great implications for the civil rights movement as a whole.
In advance of oral argument, here’s a brief overview of tomorrow’s case: Fisher v. UT reexamines an issue decided in a 2003 case relating to the legality of affirmative action procedures in college admissions processes. Abigail Fisher, who attends Louisiana State University, claims she was denied admission to UT because the process favored minority applicants. At question in Fisher is whether a race-conscious admissions system is legal if a race-neutral plan already creates academic diversity.
Another case, Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), provides some useful precedent in this situation. In the Grutter decision, the Court suggested it would take 25 years until the use of race-based admissions was no longer necessary. Yet, just 9 years later, the Supreme Court is hearing another race-based admissions case. As the legitimacy of affirmative action is once again called into question, it is worth our taking a moment to consider the important role that it serves in American society.
In 1965, then President Lyndon Johnson explained, “you do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him up to the starting line of a race and then say you are free to compete with all the others, and still just believe that you have been completely fair.” This traditional interpretation of affirmative action has been largely supported by the Reform Jewish community. In 1977, the URJ passed its resolution, “Affirmative Action,” which stated that it is “morally obligatory that universities, labor unions, employers and governmental institutions… provide economic and educational opportunities for qualified Blacks, Latinos, women and economically disadvantaged persons and minorities.” Our tradition has always been sensitive to the plight of the stranger and the oppressed, and our narrative reminds us that we too were strangers in the land of Israel.
It should be no surprise that race-based inequity still exists. As such, affirmative action continues to play an important role in ensuring that the civil rights movement continues to advance the cause of racial equality.
While we await the Court’s decision in tomorrow’s case (probably months away), it is important that we continue to recognize the steps that must be taken to protect the civil rights of all Americans.
Thanks to Avra Bossov for her help in writing this blog.
Image courtesy of the Indiana Standard