Progress in the affirmative

State's elimination of race-based preferences is important step forward

The U.S. Supreme Court accelerated America’s glacial movement toward a “color-blind” society last week by upholding a Michigan ban on affirmative action in public colleges and universities.

 

The court’s Schuette v. BAMN ruling is likely to influence other states to ban race-based admission preferences – welcome news to anyone who has encountered reverse discrimination under policies where such race-based preferences are allowed.

Though stopping short of declaring affirmative action unconstitutional – which, from a conservative perspective, it should be – the court’s opinion essentially places the decision in the hands of a state’s voters.

The Michigan law the court upheld was a voter-enacted state constitutional amendment that passed 58 percent to 42 percent in 2006.

A handful of states besides Michigan, including deep-blue California, already have eliminated race-based admissions preferences.

Schuette is good news for anyone who believes the Constitution’s equal-protection clause really does apply to everyone, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, national origin or gender.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion points out the absurdity of dividing Americans into racial interest groups: “Does a half-Latino, half-American Indian have Latino interests, American Indian interests, both, half of both?”

The court’s decision was buffered somewhat against left-wing tantrums because the reliably liberal Justice Stephen Breyer sided with the majority. Liberals were left to rally around the dissenting opinion of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was joined in the 6-2 vote by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case.

Sotomayor’s rambling 58-page dissent reads more like a monologue than a legal opinion. It calls the majority justices “out of touch with reality” and said that “race matters” because of the “long history of racial minorities being denied access to the political process” and that “persistent racial inequality” still exists.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who famously said in 2007 that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” took the unusual step of writing a rebuke to Sotomayor’s opinion, which he did in two pages.

“People can disagree in good faith on this issue,” he wrote. “(But it does) more harm than good to question the openness and candor of those on either side of the debate.”

And that debate will continue, as Schuette is not the be-all, end-all affirmative-action ruling.

However, the contest becomes more lopsided every day. It’s hard to make a case for affirmative action when you have an African-American president, attorney general, national security adviser and high-court justice.

National polls show the majority of Americans – 67 percent – oppose race-based preferences. Clearly, the country is ready to move on, even if Sotomayor, Ginsburg and their supporters are not.

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