Jameson Joyce is a guest columnist and political science and pre-law junior. Reach him at email@example.com.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court once again heard arguments regarding affirmative action. In the past decade, the court has heard several similar cases, cumulatively establishing the policy’s legality but also placing it under scrutiny. What makes this case unique is that it tests whether voters can ban affirmative action through a referendum, such as the one in 2006, when 58 percent of Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment banning discrimination or preferential treatment based on race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin.
Now, supporters of affirmative action are arguing that the initiative has interfered with minority participation in the political process and that the discrimination ban is… discriminatory.
Specifically, they claim that changing the Michigan constitution, and therefore making it very difficult to reverse, places it under the political-restructuring doctrine that was established by previous Supreme Court cases.
In response, Michigan Solicitor General John Bursch wrote, “It is curious to say that a law that bars a state from discriminating on the basis of race or sex violates the Equal Protection Clause by discriminating on the basis of race and sex.”
Supporters of affirmative action primarily claim the program creates “opportunity” for minorities. Despite living in a society that has accepted that people of all races possess equal intelligence and ability, supporters of affirmative action programs argue if a person has a certain skin color, they need additional help.
It is true minorities are more likely to live in impoverished areas with higher crime rates, poorer public schools and overall suffer from unfair setbacks. However, these problems are not inherently racial. If you put a white child in a decrepit public school, they will do just as poorly. If the main defense of affirmative action is poverty and the hardships it creates, there should be a system based on income, not race. Poverty affects people of all races and gender. Therefore, by using poverty as a factor, no one will be discriminated against or given special treatment.
The Michigan attorney general is confident the Supreme Court will uphold the ban and, frankly, so am I. Michigan constituents voted to ban discrimination or special treatment on the basis of race and made it known through the democratic process they believe affirmative action is a flawed policy that has no place in our society.
However, a co-worker of mine pointed out to me that racist and discriminatory laws were popular during the Jim Crow era, but that did not make them constitutional or right.
Affirmative action is an attempt to overcome prejudice, with the aim being inclusion. Despite its noble goal, the program is built on the premise that racial discrimination still is a primary reason more minorities do not receive higher education. The reality of this argument is that minorities often are stunted by poverty and poor education. Pushing many of these young students into prestigious universities does little more than increase the dropout rate among these groups, as they are forced to take on workloads they are not prepared for.
When questioning the result of an affirmative action ban, it is important to look at other states. In California, for example, although the percentage at the highest universities has declined, schools such as University of California Irving saw an increase in enrollment. Simply put, when applicants found they were unable to attend schools such as University of California, Berkeley or UCLA without affirmative action, they went to schools more suited to their academic performance. Some might argue this still constitutes discrimination, arguing that minorities are being kept out of the most elite institutions.
However, when the playing field is level, these institutions are extremely exclusive — the exact opposite of affirmative action. So it should come as no surprise when most applicants are not accepted. Although I like to think I’m pretty smart and that I work hard at my education, when I apply to law schools next year, I won’t be filing any lawsuits if I don’t get into Harvard.
I firmly believe that affirmative action, although great on paper, does not accomplish its goals because of the complex and competitive society we live in.
Not everyone is able to attend college because of income, work ethic, intelligence and ability, among other factors. Although possibly related, none of these things are inherently tied to race. Therefore, when students compete to be accepted into college, race should not be a factor.