Affirmative Action Upheld: Supreme Court Backs Use of Race as a Factor for College Admissions

Article excerpt

Affirmative action has won a major legal battle, but not the political war. Although last June the U.S. Supreme Court upheld race-conscious admission practices of the University of Michigan Law School, conservative-sponsored ballot initiatives during the up, coming 2004 elections will urge voters in Michigan and other states to outlaw racial preferences.

The victory was limited in scope and gained by a narrow margin. In Grutter v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court Justices split 5-4 to allow racial information to enter when evaluating individual University of Michigan Law School applicants. In Gratz v. Bollinger, however, they struck down University of Michigan's method of automatically giving extra points to minority applicants competing for undergraduate admission under a scoring system.

The rulings do not affect whether blacks and latinos get a chance to attend college, but these underrepresented minorities are preferentially admitted to the nation's most selective institutions. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas was among the four dissenters opposing affirmative action.

Both symbolism and substance are in the decision, believes William B. Harvey, vice president and director of the Office of Minorities in Higher Education at the American Council on Education (ACE). "The substance piece is whether or not we are going to continue to have representation of students of color in the most elite institutions in the country," he says. "Had the decision come the wrong way, it would have dramatically limited the number of students of color who would be able to get access."

"Opponents of affirmative action will try to use the fear of future lawsuits to intimidate college administrators into backlog off from admissions programs that increase diversity," says Spencer Overton, a professor at George Washington University Law School who teaches civil rights legislation. …