Though the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in schools, and ordered school districts in the U.S. to take steps to assure integration, the question of the legality of affirmative action programs by universities remained unresolved until 1978. Proponents argued such programs were necessary to make up for past discrimination. Opponents believed they were illegal and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
On June 28, 1978 The Supreme Court ruled affirmative action constitutional, thus allowing race to be one of several factors in college admission policy. In the so-called Bakke decision – Justice Lewis Powell ruled affirmative action was constitutional as a “mechanism to achieve diversity” (Britannica.com).
On July 3, 2018 Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded seven Obama-era guidance documents involving race and school admissions. These guidelines were created to promote racial diversity in higher education and end the growing racial isolation in K-12 classrooms. The rescinded documents supported affirmative action, stating in one, that colleges and universities were free to “voluntarily consider race to further the compelling interest of achieving diversity.”
A joint statement was released from the Justice and Education Departments. In it, Sessions said, “When issuing regulations, federal agencies must abide by constitutional principles and follow the rules set forth by Congress and the President. In previous administrations, however, agencies often tried to impose new rules on the American people without any public notice or comment period, simply by sending a letter or posting a guidance document on a website. That’s wrong, and it’s not good government.”
Dennis Parker of the ACLU said DeVos’ statement “signals a dangerous hostility from this administration towards the idea that promoting racial diversity is in the best interest of America” (ACLU.org).
NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said, “Affirmative action has proven to be one of the most effective ways to create diverse and inclusive classrooms. But by telling schools and universities that they should not use affirmative action to achieve inclusive classrooms, the Education Department has again failed our students (ACLU.org).
Even more frightening, said Eskelsen García is that “Trump has indicated he intends to appoint a nominee to the Supreme Court who will declare that affirmative action is unconstitutional in our schools” (CNN.com).
Mark Bauerlein said, Fifty years of affirmative action in college admissions hasn’t led to anything like a critical mass of African-Americans in the higher reaches of academia, but it has aggravated group tensions on campuses and throughout the country. Equal protection gives Americans confidence in their nation and their place within it (Weekly Standard).
Follow the pattern. DeVos has dismissed hundreds of civil rights cases, she advocates for charters and vouchers which do not support students of color, and now the affirmative action decision. The view of race through the white lens of government does not show the wide angle views of who we are in this country.
Equal protection under the law. I am reminded of the proclamation by the pigs who controlled the government in George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
These are my reflections for today.
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