Today, the Supreme Court of the United States in a 6-2 vote struck down affirmative action in the state of Michigan by upholding a law the state had enacted in 2006 that bans the use of racial preference in state university admissions.
They’re probably many that are calling the decision the beginning of the end of an era. Those same people may even see affirmative action as a dinosaur that has outlived its usefulness. Who knows but they could be right.
One always hoped that the policies first set forth by the federal government to level the playing field after one of America’s darker periods would eventually cease being necessary, become obsolete and redundant even and that society would take it upon herself to enact the best practices that ensured all Americans, regardless of their skin color, age, gender or orientation, would have access to equal protections and rights under the law.
In a nutshell then it becomes, are we there yet? Again, we could be but leaving the decision to be decided by a state ballot is not the way to dismantle that which was so blatantly and tragically necessary not so long ago.
Justice Kennedy in his vote declared, “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it.” He’s both right and wrong on that. He’s wrong in that the case is most definitely about how the debate concerning racial preferences should be resolved but he’s correct that it’s also about who should do so.
To allow states to decide whether or not affirmative action is needed in their own community is a backwards step that leads us possibly right back where we started.
States were notoriously unreliable when it came to enforcing laws that guaranteed equal protections and rights before affirmative action. Even today, there are disparities in education, housing and pay affecting minorities, women and at times members of the LGBT community; disparities that are tied oftentimes to state budget trimming or other ballot measures. Some may argue though that the number of instances of such disproportions pale in comparison to what was going on in the mid twentieth century.
However, the point that should be taken is that such instances still do occur in this day and age, in the twenty-first century. If that’s not a reason to, at least, study long a decision to terminate the federal practices, I don’t what would be.
Inevitably, we are going to have a debate about the necessity of affirmative action. We’ll also debate whether its continued implementation harms one class of people at the expense of another. But when we do so, let’s frame it from an accurate and historical point of view.
Affirmative action, from its beginning, was always something much more than simply the use of racial preferences in deciding who receives this or that be it housing, education or employment. Unlike its darker and evil cousin, Jim Crow, affirmative action had no ill intent, was not initiated to harm or subjugate but was begun in an effort to combat the decades of lawlessness that gripped many states across the nation.
I’m just saying we need to remember why it was started before we judge its continued use so harshly and radically.