Commentary

Stand by Supreme Court Bakke decision

Last week, I received a copy of a letter that the President of the National Urban League sent to the President of the United States. The subject of the letter is the decision by the United States Supreme Court … Last week, I received a copy of a letter that the President of the National Urban League sent to the President of the United States. The subject of the letter is the decision by the United States Supreme Court to hear two cases regarding the way in which race may be used in admissions decisions at the University of Michigan. The University of Michigan has been a model for admissions procedures that advance society’s compelling interest in inclusion without offending the U. S. Constitution.

It should be noted that the University of Michigan is a highly selective institution which consistently has many more qualified applicants than openings. It uses neither quotas, set-asides or acceptance of the unqualified in its admissions policy. It does use a variety of factors in deciding whom, among equally qualified applicants, to admit.

Hugh Price urges President Bush to stand by the Supreme Court’s Bakke decision which has framed college admission standards for the past 25 years. The ruling in that case made it permissible, under the Constitution, for schools to consider race as one of many factors, not just to combat discrimination, but as a way to promote diversity. I want to share portions of Price’s letter with you:

In the view of the National Urban League, promoting inclusion rises to the threshold of a compelling state interest that justifies the use of race as one of many factors – albeit not as the sole or decisive factor – in allocating educational opportunity among those who are qualified. . . .

There’s simply no denying the striking progress that minorities have made over the past generation in entering the American mainstream since the advent of affirmative action. . . . In 1961, 134,000 Black students attended predominantly White colleges and universities. Today, the number of African American undergraduates at such schools is 1.2 million.

The evolving and inexorable demographic change underway in this country provides all the moral and economic rationale we need to view inclusion as a compelling public interest. . . The civic life of our nation will depend increasingly on a literate and engaged populace of color who are well equipped to exercise the ballot and meet the obligations of citizenship.

I think it is important that we second Price’s statements with those who represent us in Congress. One of the most powerful tools that a U.S. President has is the selection of Supreme Court Justices. We need to be heard on those appointments.

The world of the highest court in the land may seem far removed from the immediate problems we face here in the African American community. There is a tendency to ask,”Haven’t we got enough to deal with right here at home?” We can’t afford to have that attitude.

If this country backs away even further from inclusion of all people and recognition of diversity, it will come home to us sooner than we think. The cases that the Supreme Court will hear in the spring are very specific to a small group of very accomplished students. But the principles that the decision will uphold or nullify will make the difference between a country chipping away at the use of race as a positive, rather than a negative, factor and a country reaffirming policies that embrace inclusion and diversity.

December 9, 2002
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