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HED Team Trump's affirmative action war: Not for whites only

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

That diversity standard has since been upheld in various forms by the high court's 2003 decision in the Grutter v. Bollinger case and again last year in the case brought by Abigail Fischer, a white woman, against the University of Texas at Austin.

At the same time, more than a third of the country's population lives in states like California, Florida and Michigan that have banned race-conscious admissions in state universities in recent years. Yet all American colleges continue to seek "diversity," and they have been allowed to do so, as long as their selection process can withstand court scrutiny.

It is also important to remember that affirmative action only applies to the nation's most selective schools. At most colleges and universities, a diverse array of applicants shows up and is admitted on its own.

Now the diversity standard is being put to the test again. After decades of debate and very close Supreme Court decisions, Asians frequently have been mentioned alongside whites as possibly being penalized by affirmative action policies. Yet studies have shown the fraction of whites and Asians who might be penalized was small enough to pass court scrutiny.

But with the new court, it is easier to speculate on the political impact of this issue than the legal outcome. Although President Donald Trump has supported each side of this debate at various times, he did not campaign on it. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, by contrast, has been so conservative as to give the department's civil rights division whiplash in reversing its leftward tilt in President Barack Obama's years.

The larger question politically is how much do voters really care. After a presidential campaign cycle that saw a surprising revolt by working-class white voters against elites, it seems like a nostalgic blast from the past to be arguing about discrimination in admissions to selective colleges.

The best outcome ultimately would open up more opportunities for students, regardless of race, who are disadvantaged by income and struggling public schools. That's the sort of affirmative action that I think every American of good will wants, even when good will seems hard to find.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

(c) 2017 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

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