The New York Times has a recent article by Adam Liptak suggesting that the right-wing, white-oriented majority on the U.S. Supreme Court may be poised to knock down all targeted college and university efforts to diversify campuses in terms of racial characteristics.
The key case now comes from a white student who asserts that she was not admitted to the University of Texas (Austin) because she was white. She brought her lawsuit to the federal district court in Austin, Texas, where the judge ruled against her and accepted the previous (2003) Supreme Court Grutter decision involving the University of Michigan, which permitted limited use of racial characteristics in admissions to improve the “diversity” of historically white institutions. Since that decision was decided 5-4, the Times reporter suggests the now more reactionary high court (with Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas on it) may well decide against even these limited attempts at affirmative action in higher education.
Liptak describes the impact succinctly:
Should the Supreme Court disavow it, the student body at the University of Texas and many other public colleges and universities would almost instantly become whiter and more Asian, and less black and Hispanic. A judicial retreat from diversity would be deeply symbolic. . . . If the diversity rationale falls apart in university admissions, it could start to test the societal commitment to it in other arenas, notably private hiring and promotion.
An aggressively white-framing Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. has already written in a 2007 case that
Racial balancing is not transformed from ‘patently unconstitutional’ to a compelling state interest simply by relabeling it ‘racial diversity.’”
In such settings Roberts, like a great many other whites, operates mostly out of a conservative version of the old white racial frame and often refuses to acknowledge the present reality of racial oppression in the U.S., including rampant white-racist thinking and actions documented for many of our historically white colleges and universities. The former affirmative action programs and the few remaining such programs at best only provide modest little steps toward redressing institutional and systemic racism in our massive educational system.
The Texas system is particularly interesting, as it admits automatically the top ten percent of students from all Texas high schools to some part of the public university system in Texas, yet
Ms. Fisher just missed that cutoff at her high school in Sugar Land. She sued in 2008, challenging the way the state allocated the remaining spots using a complicated system in which race played a role.
The impact of cutting out even these modest affirmative action admissions programs already has been significant. In California, thus, “there are fewer blacks and Hispanics on campus in the state.” One estimate puts that loss at about one third of the black students who otherwise would have entered to the California system.
Clearly, the white elite’s moderate/conservative wings have decided that even modestly increased desegregation of many historically white institutions no longer is important to the present or future character of society. Retrogression and resegregation are the result when the mostly white political-economic elite no longer sees a convergence of interest (Derrick Bell’s apt term) between their elite interests and interests of Americans of color for greater justice and equality in society. Racial inequality thereby increases in a society that already has extreme and now increasing racial inequalities. To cite Bell again, a “racial realism” perspective recognizes that whites will never on their own allow systemic racism to be substantially dismantled. Bell died a few days ago and his words never have been truer than today.
It is also interesting that the highly undemocratic political institution, the U.S. Supreme Court with its unelected judges, gets to decide what is constitutional and unconstitutional lawmaking in this society. Yet the undemocratic character of so many of our political institutions, such as this reactionary and undemocratic court never has gotten the attention in our public discussions and debates that even these rather modest affirmative action programs have gotten. Why is that?