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At Least the Supreme Court Offered Alternatives to Affirmative Action

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Reading about the Supreme Court’s unsurprising affirmative action ruling, I was reminded of Sen. Hubert Humphrey’s defense of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act.

If anyone can find language in the bill, said the Minnesota Democrat, that would require an employer to hire based on percentage or quota related to color, race, religion or national origin, “I will eat my hat.”

The bill passed and, fortunately for Humphrey, he never had to eat his hat, despite a half century of arguments over how precise racial or ethnic “goals” or “timetables” have to be before they constitute a quota.

A similar decades-long saga has unfolded over affirmative action to promote diversity at universities that accept federal funding, which the Supreme Court all but banned at colleges Thursday.

Having followed affirmative action debates for decades, I was surprised only by how unsurprised I was by the ruling.

I remembered Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s unusual prediction in the 2003 opinion she wrote for the 5-4 majority that decided race-conscious admissions did not unduly harm non-minority applicants at the University of Michigan Law School.

 

Near the end of the opinion, she included a prediction that now sounds prophetic:

“We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

That expectation proved to be correct with the high court’s ruling in lawsuits by Students for Fair Admissions against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.

Attention to this case has been growing for years along with evidence that racial considerations have worked against Asian Americans. They’re more likely than other groups to enroll in selective colleges and universities, yet also more likely to be rejected by what amount to de facto quotas.

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