Our ability to live in a truly diverse society, to reflect the diversity of our population, has been dealt a deadly blow by the Supreme Court in the Harvard and University of North Carolina affirmative action cases.
The Court has acted in these cases to undo the primary strategy that has enabled us to realize, however incrementally, the national goal of bringing historically disadvantaged populations, in particular African Americans, into the mainstream of society.
Since Brown v. Board of Education, we have recognized and accepted the reality that separate is not equal, especially in the world of education. That decision was directed at elementary and secondary education, but its reasoning applies to higher education as well.
Colleges and universities have been utilizing variations of affirmative action for years, in the recognition that diversity is both the manifestation of fairness to those whose circumstances have not prepared them for the more elite schools, and the primary pathway that has allowed society to benefit from diversity.
States and schools that have limited or abandoned affirmative action in recent years have seen the minority composition of their student bodies decrease by 50%.
This decision, like that overturning Roe v. Wade a year ago, reflects this Court’s disregard for precedent, as well as for policy buttressed by research and experience.
In my Poverty Law course at Chase Law College, I share this illustration with my students:
Some are born on third base and think they hit a triple. Many more are born on first base and are satisfied to be in the game.
Our clients at Legal Aid are born behind the dugout, with no bat, no ball, no glove, and no uniform. Yet, they are expected to compete.
It does not compute. There must be intervention.
That is what is wrong with today’s affirmative action decisions.
I close this meditation in the same way I close many of my meditations – elections have consequences. These decisions reflect the changed composition of the Court, made possible by the results of elections.
There is no other solution.
People must vote.
Col Owens is a retired legal aid attorney. He teaches poverty law at NKY’s Chase College of Law and has authored a memoir, Bending the Arc Toward Justice. This article was first published in the NKY Tribune.