Last week's decision by the
U.S. Supreme Court that upholds a Michigan constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action in admission to state's universities may be good law, but does represent a retreat from efforts to integrate minorities into the nation's mainstream.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the conservative majority, said there is no authority in the U.S. Constitution to set aside Michigan's amendment, approved by a vote of the people that bans affirmative action in determining who gets into that state's colleges and universities.
While there may be other ways to secure slots for admission of minorities, the results of dropping the affirmative action in states like Texas, Florida, California and even Michigan has been a significant drop in the enrollment of black and Hispanic students in the most prestigious universities. As such it represents a retreat from the ideal of equal participation in the American dream.
While the quotas that affirmative action implies may not sit well with those who excel academically or those who, by virtue of inheritance, benefit from being part of the old boy's network, they have enabled people who might not otherwise get the chance to arrive at elite institutions where they are exposed to top professors, research, and the benefits of networking within the elite.
Granted, some who gained opportunities have not risen to the challenge, but many have and to deny that because of the handicap of background or place of origin, can weaken the social fabric of the country. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic on the Court, linked the ruling to recent examples of discriminatory changes in state voting laws that so far have survived challenges at the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling, she said, puts minorities under a burden not faced by other college applicants and, as such, violates the Constitution's equal protection clause.
The affirmative action movement really hits it high water mark in the 1960s and 1970s and since then there has been a gradual retreat that parallels, but does not sink to the level of the movement to end Reconstruction following the Civil War.
This latest ruling should send off alarms to those who represent minorities in Congress and in state legislatures of the need to build consensus and alliances without which further erosion of affirmative action will doubtless occur.
Apathy and fatigue undermined Reconstruction. Is the same occurring with Affirmative Action?