Jewish World Review April 28, 2014 / 28 Nissan, 5774
The coming end of affirmative action
By Paul Greenberg
Amidst all the opinions out of the nation's highest court on Tuesday -- majority and minority, concurring in part and dissenting in part, or just too vague to classify -- was there any clear message? Yes. Definitely. But you had to peer through all the legal haze, an admix of angry rhetoric and discreet evasions, in order to divine where the
If you listen carefully to the general drift of all these different decisions, that sound you can hear in the distance, maybe only the far distance, is the long awaited death knell for racial preferences in higher education. Yes, time is running out for all those racial quotas -- for that is what has always lurked behind the euphemism Affirmative Action, which can have decidedly negative impact on those students who don't belong to the favored race, ethnicity, class or whatever bias you prefer.
If the essence of law is not logic but experience, to borrow an observation from the ever-observant
From its beginning, what is called affirmative action has had a paradox at its center: Any preference given applicants who belong to the preferred group amounts to discrimination against those who don't. That's always been the essential injustice of
Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg are scarcely the first to deck out an essential injustice in the language of high principle. It's almost a tradition in American jurisprudence. See the works of
Yes, there are instances where some forms of racial discrimination may be justified on a temporary basis in order to break up a whole, greater system of racial discrimination long embedded in law, custom and popular passion. Think of the crosstown busing that was necessary -- for a while -- to end racial segregation in the nation's schools and so further liberty and justice for all in this one nation all too divisible.
Unfortunately, the legal expedients we're told are only temporary have a way of becoming permanent, dragging on for years, even decades, as busing did. Only now may such arbitrary measures be fading, though not till after they ushered in an era of resegregated school systems in city after city. Affirmative action, too, has tended to become a permanent institution, with its own overstaffed bureaucracy and vested interests, in all too many of the country's institutions of "higher" learning, which wind up practicing a low form of racial discrimination.
That's why the most hopeful comment in this miscellany of opinions the
But that's just the kind of simple justice Madam Justice Sotomayor deplored in her opinion -- except, except for one brief comment that implied some hope for justice in the future. Did you catch it? It came when she was berating the court for changing the rules of the game "mid-contest." Hmm. So if the debate over affirmative action has reached its midpoint, that means this pernicious practice must have had a beginning and, yes, will someday have an end. And someday all students applying for admission to a state university will be judged without regard to their race or other irrelevancies. What a glorious day that will be, and this mixed bag of decisions out of the court Tuesday indicates that day is coming, however slowly.
Yes, the college admission process can be rigged to benefit your favorite minorities, but only at the cost of penalizing others. The question is Cui
Just why justices like
The wheels of justice, they say, grind slow but exceeding fine. Sometimes so fine that justice is hard to discern. But the day of reckoning for affirmative action is coming, however slowly and contentiously. And it'll be a great day when it finally arrives.
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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
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