Affirmative Action on the Block

Photograph Source: Ian Dick – CC BY 2.0

On Monday, January 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court announced their decision to hear the case of Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard SFFA along with SFFA v. University of North Carolina regarding their use of race-conscious admissions. Given the stench of politicization that has rendered the Court into nothing less than a governing arm of the right-wing Republican Party, it is expected that affirmative action in university admissions will be abolished. Oral arguments will be heard in the fall of 2022 with the Court’s decision expected to be given in June 2023.

Conservatives have been organizing to overthrow affirmative action since its inception in the 1960s. It is easy to understand why affirmative action has the conservative right-wing continually on the attack: the definition of affirmative action requires the understanding of how our society’s historic and systemic racism has resulted in a wholly inequitable society. To remedy this embedded inequity, affirmative action has successfully worked to ensure people of color are given fair access to educational and employment opportunities.

A few facts that need to be remembered as SFFA v. Harvard moves forward to the U.S. Supreme Court. SFFA v. Harvard is being shepherd by Edward Blum, the man who engineered our current state of voter disenfranchisement and suppression with the gutting of the 1964 Civil Rights Voting Act: the 2013 Shelby v. Georgia ruling. Blum’s modus operandi is simple: to eradicate any and all racial preferences that he deems blocks a free and equitable society.

“Most Americans don’t want race to be part of your application to college,” explains Blum. “They don’t want the police to use race as a profiling tool to prevent crime. They don’t want prosecutors to use race in the makeup of a jury. Your race and your ethnicity should not be something something used to help you or harm you in your life’s endeavors.”

In his pursuit of bringing racial justice to the country, Edward Blum receives funding from the funding organization DonorsTrust. DonorsTrust collects big money from the conservative billionaire class and then distributes the funds to worthy conservative causes (Blum received $2.9 million from DonorsTrust) that “promotes individual freedom and economic liberties, while encouraging personal responsibilities and a respect for traditional American values.”

The last time affirmative action came before the Supreme Court was in 2016 with the Fisher v. University of Texas ruling. Edward Blum was the architect behind Fisher v. University of Texas and he lost. The Supreme Court ruled that the University of Texas passed the “strict scrutiny” test: the highest form of judicial review courts use when deciding the constitutionality of government discrimination.

Another demand by the SFFA and Edward Blum to further decimate race-conscious admissions is to overturn the Supreme Court ruling in the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger. That decision upheld the constitutionality of the University of Michigan’s Law School admissions policy. The Supreme Court ruled that the use of race in higher education admissions is constitutional.

Relentless in his pursuit for “color-blind justice” Edward Blum decided in 2016 to tackle Harvard’s admissions policy as a pathway to eliminate affirmative action. Blum deemed that Harvard discriminated against Asian-American applicants in favor of African-American or Latino applicants.  Federal District Court Judge Allison Burroughs heard the case in the fall of 2018 and ruled against the SFFA in 2019, finding that Harvard did not discriminate against Asian-American applicants – that Harvard’s use of race-conscious admissions was consistent with Supreme Court precedent.

The SFFA appealed the decision, as Blum said they would, and in 2020 the first United States Court of Appeals agreed with Judge Burroughs’ decision and upheld the decision that Harvard’s application procedures passed the “strict scrutiny” test.

Last year, 2021, SFFA brought their petition to the Supreme Court to hear SSFA v. Harvard.

The SFFA petition was disingenuous in its design: there were strategically placed quotes from the four Supreme Court justices already on record for opposing affirmative action. It was a direct appeal that would assure that their grievance would be heard.

Chief Justice John Roberts, has famously spoke on his embedded opposition to affirmative action, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has stated, “Every time the government places citizens on racial registers and makes race relevant to the provision of burdens or benefits, it demeans us all.”

The brief filed by the Biden administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court to deny the petition brought by SFFA. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued that there is “no sound reason” to take up a case that has previously been ruled upon. The case brought by the rejected applicants by the SFFA, Prelogar argued, “is a poor vehicle” for reconsidering its past decisions on affirmative action.”

“Grievously wrong,” is the argument the SFFA lawyers are presenting in this case pertaining to race and discrimination. “Grievously wrong” is the standard that is put forth in the cases regarding overturning precedents. It is a slick strategic move by the SFFA attorneys: they are using the language of the cases that have been approved by the Supreme Court to gut affirmative action.

The six hard core conservative Supreme Court justices are not embarrassed at the stench they of politicization and the abandonment of using the law to work for the common good. The common good holds that laws should be interpreted with the aim of promoting the classical ideals of peace, justice to build a community that works for everyone – not as a political arm of the Republican party; a party which has abandoned legislating their conservative agenda and given it to the Supreme Court to administer.

Affirmative action is a policy that works for the common good. People working towards that vision today is perceived as suspect, laughable. It has been obviously clear for the past several decades that individuals and families cannot prosper if the entire community is basically unhealthy: divided by conflict and poverty, despair and politicized anger.

However, that is of no concern to the six hard core conservative Supreme Court justices. They have abandoned any pretense of working towards an equitable society. Now, with the realistic expectation that abortion rights will be soon be eliminated, strategic plans are being made within the women’s healthcare network on how to provide health services to women  regardless of the court’s ruling.

With affirmative action slated to become an irrelevant policy, strategies are being discussed on how best to recruit students of color. Universities are expected to resist the court’s limitations by making alliances with high schools and community colleges in order to reach students of color earlier to prepare them for an Ivy League education. Affirmative action may organize to have state legislatures and Congress to enact laws that will allow them to do what the Court will not.

If affirmative action is eliminated, there may well be an onslaught of court cases that will make the case that supposedly race-neutral policies are not race-neutral at all. When the admissibility to elite universities deny the racism – regardless of racism’s determining presence within our society – against people of color – there may come a Supreme Court ruling at some later date that deems this racism as unconstitutional.

Nancy Snyder is the Recording Secretary Emeritus of SEIU Local 1021. She has a long history of writing about labor issues and labor history and also writes about political literature.