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Affirmative Action

Written by Ella Rowe

Edited by Annika Lilja

Beginning in the early 1960s, Affirmative Action was a law passed by the Supreme Court as a measure to reverse discrimination and give underrepresented groups a higher chance to gain access to jobs, governmental contracts, and college admissions. In the late 1970s, challenges to affirmative action began based on claims of “reverse discrimination.” Among the 20+ supreme court cases since then, Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke (1978) is one of the many examples in which affirmative action was upheld. Ruling 5-4, the justices denied the complaint against affirmative action. Affirmative action has survived many supreme court cases since and continues to be applied. So why is this a current issue?

Those in charge of admissions at highly selective schools have different standards for different ethnicities as a way to overcome systemic problems that otherwise might not permit students spots at universities. Former dean of admissions, William Fitzsimmons, testifies that he has recruited Native American and Hispanic high schoolers with ‘average’ SAT scores, around a 1100 out of 1600 Whereas, Asian Americans are recruited by attaining at least a 1350 for women and 1380 for men.

California is a state that has banned affirmative action for state colleges for 24 years, which may be foreshadowing what the United States will look like in the upcoming months. Since 1996, California’s ban has had tremendous effects on the percentage of Black students and Native American students in these universities. According to a statistic in 2016, the student percentage of African Americans in public colleges in California is below 6 percent. Similarly, Texas has also replaced its affirmative action plan with a system that allows for the top 10% of all its students to have a guaranteed spot at a state university.

Appealed to the Supreme court, Grutter v. Bollinger: Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina are upcoming trials where eliminating one’s race as a factor to be considered when applying to college is being argued. In the Harvard case, the argument is that Asian Americans have been discriminated against due to this process. And in the UNC case, that race is the dominant factor in the school’s socioeconomic screen. The outcome of these cases could mean that perhaps race will not be a factor in being accepted to college. This raises a lot of questions and significant issues about the future of diversity on campuses and the college admission process for all applicants.

Although a private institution, federal laws of affirmative action apply to Harvard University due to the funding they relieve from federal sources for various programs. UNC, being a state school, is required to follow federal laws. The question for the supreme court is whether the current affirmative action laws breach the 14th amendment in the constitution which guarantees equal protection of the law. The current status of the supreme court will be detrimental to the outcome of these two cases. Out of the majority Republican judges, three out of the seven have publicly stated their resentment of Affirmative Action.

Specific to the two current affirmative action cases, they involve Asian Americans who statistically have higher scores on entry exams to college. This, they argue, puts them at a higher standard to do well and therefore at a disadvantage to be admitted to universities. Some news sources are drawing a parallel between Asian- Americans and American Jews who, in the early 20th century, were excluded from quotas when they were in the same position with statistically higher scores than other sects of people with different religious affinities. This analogy between Jews in the 20th Century and Asian-American’s is used is in attempt to ban discrimination in the current setting.

the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB) joined with the Silicon Valley Chinese Association Foundation compiled a brief that supports the affirmative in this case. They state, “Different time period. Different ethnic/racial group. Same discrimination. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now.”


Work cited

“Affirmative Action.” Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, 26th October 2022.

“Harvard’s gatekeeper reveals SAT cutoff scores based on race.” Lia Eustachewich, 17th October 2018.

“Dropping affirmative action had huge Impact on California’s public universities.” Thoms Peele and Daniel J. WIllis, 29th October 2020.

“Affiamative action fast facts.” CNN editorial research, 19th April 2022.

“Can race play a role in admiassions? The Supreme Court hears the arguments.” Nina Totenberg, 31 October 2022.

“The Asian-American challenge to affirmative action- and to American Jews.” Ruth R Wisse, 14th November 2022.


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