Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Rights and Reason: 'A Resounding Victory For Diversity on Campus'

Lee Bollinger, the former president of the University of Michigan and current president of Columbia University, writes in the Washington Post about yesterday's decisions in the affirmative action cases.

The court's decision, then, suggests that the court knows what the nation knows: that, unfortunately, race still matters in the United States, and that as we as a nation seek to treat all Americans fairly, treat them equitably and as individuals, college and university admissions offices cannot be barred from looking at race. As Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in Bakke, "It would be impossible to arrange an affirmative-action program in a racially neutral way and to have it successful. . . . In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way."

. . .

And, finally, it is of the highest importance to recognize that the law school policy can be applied throughout all other colleges and universities. Nothing about this policy makes it peculiarly relevant for admissions decisions regarding law schools. The Michigan undergraduate admissions policy, which the court found flawed, awarded points for race and ethnicity. The only reason for that system was to ensure consistency across many different applications reviewed by many different admissions counselors. Nothing precludes the university from now embracing a non-quantitative method that permits counselors to consider "race" as one among many factors. And that will be true of every college and university admissions program in the country. It is, therefore, misleading and inaccurate to think of what the Supreme Court has done as a "split" or "murky" decision in this area of constitutional law. It is about as clear as constitutional law gets.
It will be interesting to see just how the non-quantitative application of a non-objective standard works in practice. Bollinger and his allies may be cooing now, but as Justice Scalia predicted in his dissent, rather then end the debate, the Court's ruling opened the door for even more litigation over affirmative action.

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