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Maybe ‘Supply-Side’ Affirmative Action Would Work Better

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Could this be the beginning of the end for affirmative action?

We’ve heard that question before, especially after the Supreme Court’s 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision narrowly upheld the practice in college admissions.

In writing that opinion, conservative Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a known critic of racial preferences, nevertheless managed to justify her decisive vote to uphold the practice by suggesting something like a sunset clause.

“We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary,” she wrote, “to further the interest (in student body diversity) approved today.”

Alas, 19 years later, her optimistic expectation still sounds like a judicial version of kicking the can down the road.

The high court agreed Monday to take a new look at the question of affirmative action in higher education by hearing a case challenging the use of race as one factor in admissions to Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.

 

The court will be considering not only how the two universities operate their affirmative action programs, but also how 43 years of earlier court decisions raise questions about whether race can ever play a role in admissions decisions.

And since the court’s intrusion into the policies at an elite private university and a flagship state university is based on the fact that both receive federal funds, their decision could ultimately apply to race-based policies in public schools in the lower grades, too.

O’Connor retired in 2018 for health reasons and a more conservative Supreme Court, with three new Trump-appointed conservatives, is making the fate of affirmative action look more endangered than ever.

And more than ever, I find myself asking, if affirmative action does go away, how much will anyone notice?

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