Published: July 1, 2013
Last week, in its decision on whether race-conscious school admission policies violate the rights of some white applicants, the Supreme Court upheld the use of race in the admissions process, but made it harder for institutions to use such policies to achieve diversity. The justices' 7-1 decision threw the case back to the lower courts for further review.
Like immigration, affirmative action is an issue that is not going away. The Supreme Court had the opportunity to resolve the controversy and chose not to, so the debate about the merits of affirmative action will continue.
In its controversial 48-year history, affirmative action has been celebrated and demonized as an answer to racial inequality. The term "affirmative action" was introduced by President John Kennedy in 1961 as a temporary method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and the Constitution. Like many things in government, temporary can mean decades. It was developed and enforced for the first time by President Lydon Johnson, who called it "the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights." Johnson asserted: "We seek. not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."
Affirmative action mandates impact us all. On paper, the requirements try to ensure that blacks and other minorities have the same opportunities for promotions, raises, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that once were the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy. Almost 50 years later, America still grapples with the issue and the legacy that the policy has caused.
This process is another government policy that overmanages individual lives. Countless government entities begin with good intentions, only to balloon in size. Take the Department of Energy (DOE) - it was started in 1977, although it can trace its existence to America's WWII Manhattan Project. Despite the current fiscal crisis the DOE it has seen its budget grow by over $11 billion - a staggering 76 percent in the last 10 years.
Numerous programs make up the $65.7 billion fiscal year 2013 discretionary budget of the U.S. Department of Education. It's a bureaucracy that seemingly increases exponentially.
Despite the controversy about affirmative action programs, it seems little is known about its actual costs. The costs are incurred by businesses, educational institutions and the federal government. Some costs are borne by the individual states. Estimates range as high as $100 billion per year, for administrative costs of the program alone.
But the biggest problem with affirmative action is the backlash. In the 1970s, reverse discrimination began to surface, symbolized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less-qualified minority applicants - the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.
Backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system gave special preference to groups that were unqualified and "getting a free ride". "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. "Affirmative action" hires became a stigma in some circles.
Like so many other government programs, it has lasted a lot longer and grown a lot larger than necessary. It has done more to divide the nation than it has to unite us.
Liberal thought counters that institutional racism has hampered minority achievement and inclusion. Just making discrimination illegal is not enough.
We feel that affirmative action should be revisited. Perhaps a model similar to California's would work for the entire nation. California opted out of affirmative action in its public education system, in 1996 with Proposition 209, but has implemented programs to engage minority and low-income students at the middle school level, preparing them to go to college.
We hope the Supreme Court will address this issue when the next challenge emerges. Take the discrimination against nonminorities out of the equation. Judge applicants fairly and equally without imposing quotas. Really move towards that elusive post-racial America.