By SIERRA MACIOROWSKI
Imagine a policy intended to help minority students into the colleges of their dreams. With the program, those students, especially the disadvantaged, can get the education they deserve, even if their high school curriculum was not satisfactory. They dream about a future of fancy cars, suburban housing, fashionable clothes, and intellectual companions.
Now, imagine that that program’s effects instead impair those students’ abilities in the realm of higher education. They expect equality — in treatment and in admissions — but their classmates see in them primarily the inequity of affirmative action, and college classes are much harder than expected. The students spend hours studying, but move through college with lower grades. Discouraged, disheartened, or convinced that their idealized world may not become a reality, some drop out, losing the opportunity to continue in the realm of higher education.
Equality is an inspiring ideal, and banning discrimination, one would think, clearly benefits equality. That issue lies at the heart of the current Supreme Court case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, where Michigan’s Proposal 2 banning the use of affirmative action is under scrutiny. Unfortunately, the nature of affirmative action itself may split up the Court — as the same matter has caused a split between the 9th and 6th U.S. Circuit Courts. Unlike the recent decision in Fisher v. University of Texas, in which the court reaffirmed that affirmative action must be narrowly tailored, this case does not relate solely to the constitutionality of affirmative action. Instead, the argument lies in the ability of voters to ban a policy of which they do not approve. Can the voters restrict state universities from using discriminatory policies even if those policies benefit historically disadvantaged minorities? I say yes.
Racial diversity is important, and affirmative action was legally recognized in past court decisions, but the respondents in Schuette use as their primary argument the rare analysis mechanism known as the political restructuring doctrine. They say that moving the battle on affirmative action out of the hands of Michigan universities restructures the political process in a manner that disadvantages minorities. To wit, Proposal 2 “violated the Equal Protection Clause,” which guarantees equal protection of the laws for all, thus “creating an unequal and racially discriminatory political process.”
To use the political restructuring doctrine, the coalition attempts to prove that the ban weakens equality. However, as petitioners argue, Proposal 2 “does not create political obstructions to equal treatment.” Rather, it impedes preferential treatment.
Affirmative action is, by definition, an admissions preference — one which uses race to determine admittance. Thus, Proposal 2’s ban only prohibits discrimination itself — and accordingly upholds the intentions of the Equal Protection Clause.
Respondents said that the proposal allowed Michigan voters to “selectively change the rules of the political process along racial lines.” But the ban’s text forbids not only preferences based on race, but also those of gender, ethnicity, and national origin — and because of the nonracial extensions of its restrictions, the legal precedents which the respondents claim for striking down the ban cannot apply.
Imagine a white, impoverished adolescent. The teen hopes to attend a local university, but unfortunately she is denied admission, although she was a decent student and did her share in the community. The position that would have been hers in the university’s freshman class, instead goes to a minority child of a middle-class family that already has sent children to college. The poor student, on the other hand, is employed at minimum wage, and only advances through dedication to her job, working far below her overall productive capabilities.
In America, success, idealism and self-promotion are valued over many other ideals — they must be, in a capitalist and democratic society. And taking away individuals’ chances to get into the school of their dreams because of their racial background is unfair, no matter who the losers are. The aforementioned young woman should not lose her chance to realize her dreams because of her race. Nor should the minority student described earlier.
The people of Michigan, and voters throughout America, must have the right to ban racially discriminatory policies if equality continues to be valued. Ask yourself: would you want your hard-earned GPA, hundreds of hours of volunteer work, and four years of student leadership to be undervalued (or overvalued) simply because of the color of your skin?