AFTER THIRTY YEARS, how well do affirmative action programs, as employed in practice, measure up against the stated goals of the scheme's early proponents? How well do they provide genuine equal opportunity? Do they advance us toward a color-blind future (assuming that is a goal still worth pursuing)? Do they provide the benefits of integration--reducing prejudice and fostering social harmony? How well do they compensate for past discrimination?
The first and central goal of affirmative action, according to Justice Brennan's opening line in the Bakke decision, was to "achieve equal opportunity for all."1 Indeed, the early programs, such as the UC Davis Medical School program challenged by Allan Bakke, were framed in terms of helping "economically and/or educationally disadvantaged" applicants.2 The program was theoretically open to poor white students and was meanstested for minorities. "Ethnic minorities are not categorically considered under the Task Force Program unless they are from disadvantaged backgrounds," the UC guidelines declared.3
But over time, as affirmative action programs evolved from the race-blind class-based structure to class-blind racial preferences, the goal shifted from equality of individual opportunity to equality of racial group results.4 While the new goal is normally criticized for going too far, it is in some senses quite modest.5 To the extent that affirmative action, at its ultimate moment of success, merely creates a self-perpetuating black elite along with a