Opinion: Affirmative Action Put on Trial

Source: https://www.zenefits.com/workest/what-will-the-us-supreme-courts-ruling-on-affirmative-action-mean-for-employers/

Source: https://www.zenefits.com/workest/what-will-the-us-supreme-courts-ruling-on-affirmative-action-mean-for-employers/

Jeremy Kamber, Editor, Staff Writer

Is Affirmative Action beneficial, or does it leave well-qualified majorities behind? This question is currently being debated in the Supreme Court.

Affirmative Action describes educational institutions giving advantages to underrepresented groups in their admissions processes. Proponents of Affirmative action claim that it facilitates equality of opportunity by giving minorities an edge in the admissions process, thereby accounting for their underrepresentation in higher education. They also note the economic benefits of such a policy, while highlighting how Affirmative Action balances a system inherently tilted against such groups. Opponents contend that it has little to no educational benefit, instead giving minority groups an unfair advantage and serving to further foster identity politics in the nation. The case currently underway involves two universities in Harvard and the University of North Carolina, who are accused of taking the process to the extreme, giving unfair advantages to underrepresented groups while seemingly discriminating against Asian-Americans.

Another contention from Justice Clarence Thomas brings into question the benefits of affirmative action: “I’m really interested in a simple thing. What benefits academically are there to your definition or the diversity that you’re asserting?” Benefits aside, the main argument from those opposing Affirmative Action is that it is, put simply, unconstitutional. The Constitution demands that everyone be treated equally regardless of race. They argue that this practice abandons equal treatment in favor of achieving “ideal” diversity ratios by benefitting some and neglecting others. Proponents of Affirmative Action, however, think differently. Ketanji Brown Jackson, Supreme Court Justice, argued that a lack of Affirmative Action would “create an inequity in the system” because those of affluence in majority groups can “say the things they want” and better show “who they are.” This may be accomplished by donating large sums to universities, demonstrating a heightened intelligence through the employ of expensive tutors and developing a ‘well-rounded’ student through enrollment in extracurriculars which may again come at a financial burden for many. 

A common view is that Affirmative Action is a form of redress for the centuries of slavery in America. Affirmative Action, advocates say, intends to help lessen these disadvantages by affording African Americans more representation in higher education, a common pathway to a better life, fulfillment and financial security. The conservative section of the court has pointed out various flaws in this line of reasoning. Namely, that this would imply an “end date,” the point where reparations are no longer necessary, and equilibrium has been reached. This end date, they mark, cannot be clear: “I don’t see how you can say that the program will ever end,” says Chief Justice John Roberts. Conservatives also assert that these sorts of reparations, especially if they last generations, may imply that African Americans forever should depend upon governmental support systems to succeed. This, they argue, will lead to disaster. To address these arguments, proponents of the process have shifted from reparations to necessity. To have a thriving educational system that benefits all of society, Affirmative Action is a much-needed prerequisite. But how can one quantify what benefits society? Should diversity be split evenly between all races, or should diversity reflect the population of the area in which the school resides? Should the diversity of the area itself be improved? What does improving diversity actually mean? All of these questions make the tangible goals of diversity difficult to grasp.

When looking beyond the political arguments, alleged lack of purpose, and controversy surrounding the case, one may find a clear path forward. When proponents created this program, what were they envisioning and was the original objective achieved? One can see from the arguments that supporters of Affirmative Action were vying for an equilibrium between races. The benefit of such an equilibrium has been recognized previously in the Supreme Court, most notably by Justice Sandra O’Connor in Grutter v. Bollinger. As previously noted Judge Jackson more recently remarked on the inherent advantages of economic affluence in the college admission process: tutors, extracurricular activities, funding for personal projects, and more. What it means is that an inner city applicant may be very gifted, but exists with little way of demonstrating their full merit to an elite college. 

With this in mind, it seems that race alone is not the correct way to determine who benefits from Affirmative Action. On the contrary, it must note that may be economic privilege that determines who has an advantage in the admissions process. The methodology may need to be adjusted to today’s environment as not to compromise the original goal: equality of opportunity in society. Correcting the wealth factor in the admission process would benefit all classes of our society and help to address political arguments from both sides.