Commentary Magazine


Topic: University of Michigan Law School

Post-Racial No More

So much for the post-racial presidency. This report explains:

The Obama administration has asked a federal appeals court to uphold a race-conscious admissions system at the University of Texas at Austin, aiming to stymie a lawsuit that conservatives hope will spur the Supreme Court to limit affirmative action at public colleges.

The Texas case tests a 2003 Supreme Court decision that upheld a race-conscious admissions system at the University of Michigan Law School. That ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger said the law school had “a compelling interest in attaining a diverse student body.” By a 5-4 vote, the court prohibited “outright racial balancing,” but said race could be a “plus” factor to build a “critical mass” of minority students.

Since Grutter — when then Justice Sandra Day O’Connor promised racial preferences would fade away (“We expect that 25 years from now the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”) — universities have maintained a fiction, namely that race matters but isn’t the sole factor in admissions. Nevertheless, it matters enough to assure admission at elite schools of minority students whose test scores and grade point average are significantly worse than non-minority students. Given the Grutter roadmap (the requirement to show a “holistic” admissions approach), admissions officers and legal defenders of the thinly disguised racial-preference schemes must resort to verbal gymnastics to justify their programs:

Patricia Ohlendorf, vice president for legal affairs at the Austin campus, said many private and public universities take some account of race in admissions. Because blacks and Hispanics on average score lower on entrance exams than white and Asian-American applicants, universities have adopted affirmative-action programs to compensate.

“We think it is critical to being able to achieve the diverse institution that we think is important,” she said.

The Obama administration agrees. “[The] university’s effort to promote diversity is a paramount government objective,” says the brief filed by the Education and Justice departments. The administration disputed claims that Texas was simply engaging in raw racial preferences.

“The question is not whether an individual belongs to a racial group, but rather how an individual’s membership in any group may provide deeper understanding of the person’s record and experiences, as well as the contribution she can make to the school,” the brief says.

What?! This is just mumbo-jumbo. It’s not the individual’s race but that individual’s membership in a racial group that is of interest? An “individual’s membership in any group may provide deeper understanding of the person’s record and experiences, as well as the contribution she can make to the school”? Somehow, school admissions officers invariably achieve this “deeper understanding” especially for minority students, who have learned to provide just enough fodder in their applications to satisfy admissions officers that there is a rationale for allowing these students to leapfrog over more qualified peers.

The Fifth Circuit will decide if all of this rhetorical hocus-pocus is worthy of deference or whether, in the Obama era, it’s time to finally put an end to the racial-preference rackets. Unfortunately, the Court will find no encouragement from the not-at-all-post-racial president.

So much for the post-racial presidency. This report explains:

The Obama administration has asked a federal appeals court to uphold a race-conscious admissions system at the University of Texas at Austin, aiming to stymie a lawsuit that conservatives hope will spur the Supreme Court to limit affirmative action at public colleges.

The Texas case tests a 2003 Supreme Court decision that upheld a race-conscious admissions system at the University of Michigan Law School. That ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger said the law school had “a compelling interest in attaining a diverse student body.” By a 5-4 vote, the court prohibited “outright racial balancing,” but said race could be a “plus” factor to build a “critical mass” of minority students.

Since Grutter — when then Justice Sandra Day O’Connor promised racial preferences would fade away (“We expect that 25 years from now the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”) — universities have maintained a fiction, namely that race matters but isn’t the sole factor in admissions. Nevertheless, it matters enough to assure admission at elite schools of minority students whose test scores and grade point average are significantly worse than non-minority students. Given the Grutter roadmap (the requirement to show a “holistic” admissions approach), admissions officers and legal defenders of the thinly disguised racial-preference schemes must resort to verbal gymnastics to justify their programs:

Patricia Ohlendorf, vice president for legal affairs at the Austin campus, said many private and public universities take some account of race in admissions. Because blacks and Hispanics on average score lower on entrance exams than white and Asian-American applicants, universities have adopted affirmative-action programs to compensate.

“We think it is critical to being able to achieve the diverse institution that we think is important,” she said.

The Obama administration agrees. “[The] university’s effort to promote diversity is a paramount government objective,” says the brief filed by the Education and Justice departments. The administration disputed claims that Texas was simply engaging in raw racial preferences.

“The question is not whether an individual belongs to a racial group, but rather how an individual’s membership in any group may provide deeper understanding of the person’s record and experiences, as well as the contribution she can make to the school,” the brief says.

What?! This is just mumbo-jumbo. It’s not the individual’s race but that individual’s membership in a racial group that is of interest? An “individual’s membership in any group may provide deeper understanding of the person’s record and experiences, as well as the contribution she can make to the school”? Somehow, school admissions officers invariably achieve this “deeper understanding” especially for minority students, who have learned to provide just enough fodder in their applications to satisfy admissions officers that there is a rationale for allowing these students to leapfrog over more qualified peers.

The Fifth Circuit will decide if all of this rhetorical hocus-pocus is worthy of deference or whether, in the Obama era, it’s time to finally put an end to the racial-preference rackets. Unfortunately, the Court will find no encouragement from the not-at-all-post-racial president.

Read Less