By MEERA DESAI
While I am feverishly writing college essays, the U.S. Supreme Court is making a decision that has the potential to forever affect the basis of college admissions.
The court is ruling on whether to overturn Proposal 2, Michigan’s voter-approved ban on the use of race in college admissions. As stated during oral argument, the case touches on “one of the most hotly contested issues of our time,” and while there are valid arguments on both sides, ultimately the court should strike down the ban.
Proponents of Proposal 2 argue that it is impossible to claim that it raises racial issues that violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. They say that because Proposal 2 bans the consideration of race, it inherently eliminates racial questions and does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. What this side fails to realize is that, in eliminating the consideration of race, Proposal 2 creates a racial issue. Under Grutter v. Bollinger, racebased admissions policies are constitutional as long as they are narrowly tailored to serve the compelling interest of student diversity.
By allowing college admission boards to elevate the interest of diversity and admit students not just because they are qualified academically, but also because they add to campus diversity. Grutter is saying that diversity is part of merit. And in eliminating the consideration of race, which is undoubtedly a component of campus diversity, Proposal 2 is narrowing the idea of diversity to one that discriminates against racial minorities.
Separately, the measure, which amends the constitution of Michigan, makes it significantly harder for racial minorities to petition for race to be included in the many categories that make up diversity, like geography and legacy, for instance. As such, Proposal 2 violates the political process doctrine, which was created in a Supreme Court case 10 years ago to protect our right to equality in effecting legislative change.
If a student wants legacy to be considered as part of diversity in admissions, she has options. As explained by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s majority opinion overturning Proposal 2, “she could lobby the admissions committee, she could petition the leadership of the university, she could seek to influence the school’s governing board, or, as a measure of last resort, she could initiate a statewide campaign to alter the state’s constitution.”
On the other hand, a similar student seeking racial consideration as part of diversity in admissions decisions only has one option: “a lengthy, expensive, and arduous process — to repeal the consequences of Proposal 2.” This student’s only option is to raise “between $5 million and $15 million” and begin a long and complicated journey to get the same thing as the student who wants legacy to be a factor in admissions decisions: participation in our government.
Proponents of Proposal 2 make two arguments to say that the proposition doesn’t violate the political process doctrine, but neither of their arguments holds water. The first argument is that it’s hard for everyone to effect change in admissions decisions. While the student seeking legacy- conscious admissions “may attempt to lobby a faculty committee or university directly,” faculty committees make their own rules and will probably not act on what one student wants. While the student lobbying for race has a separate burden, supporters of Proposition 2 say this burden is fair: the end result is that neither student will get what they want easily. This argument is ridiculous under Brown v. Board of Education, which states that “separate is inherently unequal” and unconstitutional.
The second argument is that we should just accept Proposition 2’s violation of political process. Michigan’s Solicitor General John J. Bursch, who represented the state in the case, blames “the Equal Protection Clause itself.” He explains that because the Equal Protection Clause subjects racebased classifications to a higher level of scrutiny, it is always harder to pass race-based laws.
However, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explains, “strict scrutiny was originally put forward as a protection for minorities — a protection for minorities against hostile disadvantageous legislation.” Think Jim Crow laws. This perverted argument uses a piece of our Constitution that is intended to protect minorities as a justification for why minorities will never be able to participate in our government.
As a leader in the world and as a matter of moral dignity, the U.S. cannot stand for a statewide ban that trivializes the concerns of racial minorities. The Supreme Court must strike down Proposal 2.