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US Supreme Court debates affirmative discrimination in universities

United States Supreme Court, October 3, 2022 in Washington afp_tickers

This content 31 October 2022 – 16:01 . was published on


The United States Supreme Court this Monday reopened the controversial issue of affirmative discrimination programs for university admissions to progressives who fear a setback for minorities.

The high court, dominated by conservatives, will investigate for two hours the admissions processes at the oldest private and public institutions of higher education in the country, Harvard and the Universities of North Carolina (UNC).

Harvard and UNC, like other colleges, consider race or ethnicity to ensure minority representation in the student body.

It aims to correct the inequalities created in the United States’ segregated past and to increase the proportion of students of African descent, Hispanic, or Indigenous peoples who are underrepresented in higher education.

Known as affirmative discrimination or “affirmative action”, this policy has been challenged primarily by authority.

Nine states have banned affirmative action at public universities, including California, and for decades many white students have filed legal claims alleging “reverse racism.”

Raising the issue on several occasions since 1978, the Supreme Court banned fees, but authorized universities to take, among other things, racial norms, noting that the pursuit of greater diversity was a “legitimate” interest”.

In 2014, neoconservative activist Edward Blum, who launched a number of legal challenges against affirmative action programs, took a new angle on the attack. The head of an association called Students for Fair Admission filed a complaint against Harvard and UNC alleging discrimination against students of Asian descent.

The latter, whose academic results are well above average, would be outnumbered on campus if their performance was the only selection criterion, he argued.

After suffering several defeats in court, he turned to the Supreme Court, and more broadly, to declare that the Constitution prohibits all discrimination, including affirmative action.

The temple of law could refuse, as is the case in most cases. By accepting the appeal, he signaled that he was ready to take another historic turn, as he did in June by reversing the 1973 “Roe v. Wade” ruling that guaranteed abortion rights.

“This court scares me,” 44-year-old African-American Natasha Smith from North Carolina said on Monday. ,

“I’m nervous,” reflected Rachel Woods, a 32-year-old black woman. “We have never had such a diverse court, and yet we have to fight for the things we took lightly…”

– ‘plausible reason’ –

Various actors from the political, academic and economic worlds intervened to defend the status quo.

In a statement sent to the court, Democratic President Joe Biden’s government stressed the need to train “leaders with different profiles ready to lead an increasingly diverse society.”

Large companies, including Google and General Motors, have noted that “diverse workforces improve their performance” and are scouring college campuses for this.

But the Court, which was radically reformed by Donald Trump and has a conservative majority (six out of nine judges), “considers that racial registration, even for plausible reasons, violates the Constitution.” does,” recalls Steven Schwinn, a law professor. University of Illinois, Chicago.

“If we want to end racial discrimination, we must stop discriminating on racial grounds,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in 2007. Even African-American Clarence Thomas, who took advantage of these programs to enter the prestigious Yale University, publicly slandered him.

The Progressive camp, in an apparent minority, has weakened: Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first black woman to sit on the High Court, challenged the Harvard file because she previously served on that university’s board of supervisors.

The Supreme Court will have to deliver its verdict before June 30.

“It will have implications beyond higher education,” Schwinn predicted. According to him, this could prevent the government from using racial norms in other areas, such as providing public contracts, a practice authorized today.

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