Monday, June 23, 2003

Affirmative Inaction-The Supreme Court (no, make that Sandra Day O'Connor) didn't shine too brightly today, making a split decision on the UofM admissions policies. The more general affirmative action policy of the law school got by on a 5-4 O'Connor-left coalition, while the more quota-ish undergraduate policy, with a 20% boost for minorities, got shot down on a 6-3 vote, with Breyer joining the center-right quintet. This one will settle very little and create more opaqueness in admissions procedures. A fixed minority boost will get shot down, but a vague concept that race will be factored in as a positive part of an application process is a recipe for disingenuousness from admissions offices. If schools are under pressure from the powers that be to have the "correct" number of minority students, then some form of quota will be put in place. Bakke threw out a hard quota system a quarter-century ago, where x% of the Cal-Davis med school was set aside for minorities. What many schools did post-Bakke was to have a percentage boost that achieved the desired percentage; now that has been thrown out. The scoring of applicants will have to be a secret, for if a hard percentage is used, they are open to a lawsuit. If they don't use a hard percentage, schools will have to use a quota system to keep the AA lobby happy, but they dare not call it a quota system, for that will get them in trouble, too. Schools now have the impossible position that they can use race as a factor, but can't use quotas and can't use a fixed percentage boost to scores. If not a fixed percentage, what scoring system will you have? Schools will wind up either have de-facto percentage boosts or de-facto quotas that are whispered between admissions staff, the school administration and the pressure groups. Presidents and admissions officers will have their heads on a swivel trying to keep the fans of affirmative action happy and keeping their butts clear of the non-favor-persons' lawyers. This case starts to look like the racial gerrymandering cases of the last decade, where Sandra and friends tried to figure out how funky a districting map could get before it was unconstitutional, leaving them in the old obscenity definition of knowing it when you see it. Where the heck is the line, Sandy? Somewhere between 20% and zero, but we'll be fighting over where that point is for years if not decades, or until O'Connor is replaced by a justice with a more "color-blind" philosophy.

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