Affirmative action and US courts

Updated: 2014-03-07 14:23

(China Daily USA)

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State and federal courts, including the US Supreme Court, have issued numerous rulings on affirmative action in higher education over the years. Sometimes they have contradicted each other, with the legal arguments reflecting the key components of the public debate, said Albert Wang, San Francisco Bay Area chairman of the Asian Pacific Islanders American Public Affairs Association (APAPA).

Opponents of affirmative action, with the majority being Asian families, say it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, and colleges should assess applicants mainly based on merits, with the academic performance as the fairest and most objective criteria.

Supporters of affirmative action, such as Senator Ed Hernandez, who introduced the proposed amendment to the California state constitution, say the higher-education system has overlooked certain minority groups and needs to better value students with disadvantaged backgrounds in their pursuit of college degrees.

In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in the Regents of University of California vs. Bakke case that race was allowed for limited use in college admissions policy, while the racial quotas set aside for minority students by the UC Davis School of Medicine, were unconstitutional. The court said goals and timetable for diversity could be set, but the question of the legality of voluntary affirmative action programs initiated by universities remained unanswered, according to the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell University Law School.

In 2008, the Supreme Court in Fisher vs University of Texas voted 7-1 to send the university's race-conscious admissions plan back for further judicial review, ruling that courts assessing college policies must consider whether "workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity."

(China Daily USA 03/07/2014 page20)