Affirming Affirmative Action

For over thirty years America’s best universities and colleges have used race-sensitive admissions policies to increase the number of their black, Hispanic, Chicano, Native American, and other minority students.

The effect of the regents’ decision was immediate and, in the views of many of the university’s faculty, disastrous: the Boalt Hall law school at Berkeley—the state’s premier public law school—had enrolled an average of 24 black students each year for the last 28 years. In 1997 it enrolled only one, and he had been admitted the previous year but had deferred entering. The political campaign against affirmative action will continue, encouraged by the success of the California initiative, in other states. A similar prohibition will be presented to Washington voters next November, and others are certain to follow.

The second danger may be even more menacing. In 1978, in the famous Bakke case, the Supreme Court in effect ruled that race-sensitive admissions plans do not violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which declares that “no state may deny any person equal protection of the laws,” so long as such plans do not stipulate fixed quotas for any race or group, but take race into account only as one factor among others.

The immediate consequences of the Fifth Circuit decision were, once again, dramatic: though the Texas Law School had enrolled 31 black students in 1996, it could enroll only 4 in the following year. The Supreme Court declined to review the Fifth Circuit’s decision, which therefore stands as law in Texas and the other states of that circuit. Last October, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Individual Rights, which had spawned the attack on the University of Texas in the Hopwood case, filed a similar suit in Michigan, arguing that the University of Michigan’s admissions program is also unconstitutional, and similar suits are …

This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.