August 15th, 2016
Affirmative action is a controversial policy that allows minorities or a historically underprivileged class of citizens increased odds in accomplishing goals that they may not otherwise have the chance to accomplish. Although not a uniquely American idea, the concept of affirmative action gained popularity in the United States in the 1960s as a way to combat racial discrimination. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Executive Order 11246 to promote equal opportunity to underrepresented races. Initially, affirmative action applied to racial discrimination, however subsequent executive orders expanded its purpose to sex. Since its beginning in the U.S., affirmative action has caused political tension that has played out largely in the courts.
How Have Courts Handled Affirmative Action in the Past?
Affirmative Action had been discussed in numerous cases throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, and more recently it has been in the spotlight once again. Primarily, these cases indicated that there was a lawful way to administer the policy.
In the early 2000’s the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of Grutter v. Bollinger. In this case, a white female named Barbara Grutter was denied admission to the University of Michigan Law School despite the fact that she had great academic credentials. The law school did allow students into the law school with less competitive scores; however, race was a motivating factor in allowing those students in. Grutter claimed that the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment had been violated. The court rejected this argument and ruled in favor of the school stating that the review of all students is highly individualized and thus is not based solely on race.
Despite the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled that public institutions may use affirmative action as a tool in its selection process, it has also confirmed that a state may ban affirmative action within its own borders. In its 2014 case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Justice Sotomayor wrote a moving and emotional opinion that touched on aspects of her own life and experiences with affirmative action.
In line with the Schuette case, states including California, Washington, Colorado, Oklahoma and Michigan have attempted, many successfully, to ban public schools and other institutions from using affirmative action within their borders.
Did the Most Recent Affirmative Action Case Change Anything?
The argument over affirmative action is far from over and just this year, the U.S Supreme Court again made a statement regarding its view of affirmative action. In this most recent case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, Abigail Fisher applied to undergraduate admission to the University of Texas, but was denied. Fisher sued, claiming that using race as a factor in admitting students not automatically admitted by falling into the top 10% of their graduating class violated her right to equal protection. Again, the court found that under a strict scrutiny standard, the school did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment because it did not use race as a sole factor in admitting students of color.
Going forward, it seems that affirmative action is here to stay, at least in states that have not banned in. For developments going forward Universal Life Church is committed to keeping you informed.
(photo courtesy of Kevin Connors)