EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

July 13, 2013

Supreme Court ducked thorny issue of affirmative action

Diversity in college enrollment is a most desirable thing. In the elusive perfect world, it would be achievable without the pain it causes both those who must rely on it and those who are victimized by it.

One person who is both a beneficiary of race-conscious admissions policies and who claims to abhor the stigma attached to that good fortune recently voted with the majority in the Supreme Court’s decision to keep affirmative action alive in higher education but make it more difficult to use. Both those opposed to affirmative action and those wanting to keep it alive claimed victory in the 7-1 decision.

Justice Clarence Thomas — who was admitted to Yale Law School through an affirmative-action program — was instrumental in pressuring the court to take the Texas University at Austin case, although it did not initially have enough votes required under the panel’s rules for acceptance.

Thomas has long opposed racial preference for college admission, contending that such policies taint those admitted under such circumstances and cast a shadow over their careers.

This argument particularly applies to professional schools for law and medicine. Many opponents ask questions along these lines: Would you like to be operated on by a doctor who got into med school because of his race or would you like to be defended in a criminal case by a lawyer, etc.? We’ve all heard these arguments and they do no justice to either side.

In reality, the court ducked the issue, sending it back to an appeals court to demand that the Texas school exhaust other ways to promote diversity before triggering preference based on race or ethnicity. That ruling, however, also will affect most other state-supported institutions, forcing them to find less painful ways to achieve diversity.

Meanwhile, the court next term will hear another affirmative action case, this one over a Michigan law that bans preferential treatment in public university admissions.

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