November 13, 2020

Affirmative Action

Last Tuesday voters in California rejected Proposition 16, which would have permitted affirmative action policies in California by repealing Proposition 209, which was passed in 1996 and “stated that the government and public institutions cannot discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to persons on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, public education, and public contracting.” Ballotpedia

On Thursday a federal appeals court ruled that “Harvard does not discriminate against Asian American applicants… The decision came from two judges on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston who rejected claims from an anti-affirmative action group that accused the Ivy League University of imposing a ‘racial penalty’ on Asian Americans.” AP News

See past issues

From the Left

The left supports affirmative action, arguing that it is necessary to address racial disparities.

“Before Proposition 209 was passed, African American students at the University of California Berkeley made up between 6 and 7 percent of the freshman class, according to the Wall Street Journal. After the measure passed, African American students made up around 3 percent of the freshman population for the past decade, while being 6 percent of the state’s public high school graduates. Latinos make up about 54 percent of the public high school seniors in the state but are only 15 percent of Berkeley’s freshman class…

“This has had long-term ramifications, according to a recent UC Berkeley study. Since underrepresented minorities ended up attending lower-quality public and private universities, they experienced an overall decline in wages of 5 percent annually between ages 24 and 34. Overall, the study found that the ban on affirmative action has exacerbated socioeconomic inequities.”
Fabiola Cineas, Vox

“California is one of just eight states that don’t allow public affirmative action programs… The campaign’s narrow focus on the [University of California] system missed the larger damage wrought by Proposition 209. The affirmative action ban halted efforts by state and local governments to give preference in hiring and contracting to underrepresented groups. Businesses owned by women and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups often lack the same access to capital and connections as other firms…

“Americans like to believe that this country is a meritocracy, where anyone can excel with sufficient grit and tenacity. But that ignores the institutional racism baked into our society that disadvantages people of color. It ignores the systemic inequities that we are seeing play out in front of our own eyes, in the killing of George Floyd and other Black people by police and in the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately hit Black and Latino families. Proposition 16 wouldn’t have magically ended racial inequality in California, but it would have given the state’s institutions a valuable tool to address it.”
Editorial Board, Los Angeles Times

“In a nation where many still deny the impacts of systemic racism and economic inequality, it’s always going to be hard to persuade a majority to make even a small sacrifice to address those issues. That likely goes double during a record-setting economic downturn: Hard times rarely inspire generosity but instead a determined insistence on looking out for No. 1. The stereotype of the progressive Californian can’t compensate for that.”
Helaine Olen, Washington Post

“Endorsements for Prop 16 came from Newsom; Democrats who represent California in the U.S. House and Senate; the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego; the Bay Area’s professional sports franchises; Facebook; Wells Fargo; Uber; United Airlines; the University of California Board of Regents; leading editorial boards and major public employee unions. Yet instead of securing passage, this unified stance of the state’s institutional leadership mainly exposed a gap between elite opinion and public opinion… California may have foreshadowed the end of affirmative action.”
Charles Lane, Washington Post

Regarding the Harvard case, “in its 104-page ruling, the two-judge panel said SFFA hadn’t presented a single Asian-American applicant who claimed Harvard discriminated against them. To the contrary, the court pointed out that several former and current students -- including some Asian-American students -- testified in favor of race-conscious admissions at the trial… Still, the legal battle, which comes amid a fraught national reckoning on race, is far from over.”
Patricia Hurtado, Bloomberg

From the Right

The right opposes affirmative action, arguing that the solution to past discrimination should not be current discrimination.

The right opposes affirmative action, arguing that the solution to past discrimination should not be current discrimination.

“A study by Charles L. Geshekter, a professor of African history at California State University-Chico, shows that within a decade after the passage of Prop 209, minority students’ enrollment in the UC system had steadily increased to a point where ‘non-white ethnic minorities constituted over 60% of all freshmen and transfers at the University of California.’…

White students make up only 21 percent of the UC system’s 2020 freshmen class. The rest are all minorities, including 36 percent Hispanics, 35 percent Asians, and 5 percent blacks. The rest are American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and other unidentified groups. Additionally, ‘about 44% of admitted students were low-income while 45% were the first in their families to attend a four-year university.’…

“The fact that [the ballot initiative failed to pass] in a year when race-related issues have been front and center, in the most progressive state in the union, speaks volumes. The defeat shows that even in the bluest state in America, the majority of people do not believe the only way to achieve equality is to treat people differently based on their race, ethnicity, and sex.”
Helen Raleigh, The Federalist

“Even if admissions of underrepresented minorities did go down under a modestly colorblind regime, however, that is an indictment not of colorblindness, but of the woeful academic skills gap that leaves so many underrepresented minorities lacking the most rudimentary college-level math and reading capacity. Catapulting such students into academic environments for which they are unprepared does them no favors. Beneficiaries of large racial preferences congregate on average at the bottom of their class and drop out of demanding majors at high numbers. Such substandard performance reinforces racial stereotypes, rather than dispelling them.”
Heather Mac Donald, City Journal

“In pre-election polling, whites, Latinos, and Asians indicated that they were likely to vote against it. As it turns out, most Americans want to live in a country where people are not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, and their accomplishments. I would wager that most Americans do not want to live in the anti-American fantasy world of The New York Times, whose 1619 Project proclaims that the United States was conceived in iniquity, and dedicated to the proposition that the black man must be kept down at all times.”
Rod Dreher, The American Conservative

Regarding the Harvard case, “These cases keep coming up because the Supreme Court’s decisions on race are so murky. A divided Court has spent the last decades saying the limited use of race in admissions is permissible—but without drawing clear lines about how or how much. No wonder the First Circuit took 104 pages to issue its ruling, carefully repeating the factual record about how Harvard uses race in the name of diversity. Harvard never explains precisely how it uses race in admissions, but the court says that’s fine because the school uses other subjective admissions criteria as well. The ambiguity means schools can use race in arbitrary fashion as long as they’re not too blatant…

“The time [for Supreme Court review] may also be ripe politically. The U.S. is far more ethnically diverse than it once was, with many more groups qualifying as minorities. In the Harvard case, Asian-Americans are the aggrieved party, not white Americans… A Pew Research survey in 2019 found that a majority of Americans overwhelmingly reject considering race in college admissions. Time for the Supreme Court to meet the moment.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

The libertarian take

“Improving educational attainment is a crucial goal, but affirmative action in college admissions would apply only after substantive inequalities had already taken their toll. The California Department of Education reports that in 2019, only 44.1 percent of graduating seniors were deemed prepared for college or postsecondary careers, with even lower rates for Latino (36.1 percent) and African-American (23.7 percent) students…

“One key measure of college-readiness is completing a list of seven high school course requirements for UC and California State University admission known as ‘A-G.’… Black and Latino students in charters (excluding alternative schools) had 63.0 percent and 67.4 percent A-G completion rates, respectively. These numbers are significantly higher than traditional public schools which had a 42.4 percent A-G completion rate for Black students and a 45.4 percent rate for Latino students…

“A 2016 report from the California Charter Schools Association showed that African-American and Latino students in charters are almost twice as likely to apply to UCs, with an admittance rate nearly double that of students in traditional public schools… While well intended, affirmative action is controversial and divisive, making much of life feel like a zero-sum contest: for one group to win, another must lose. School choice, in contrast, would be a win for all.”
Neal McCluskey and Solomon Chen, Orange County Register

“In my lifetime in California, I have watched a white majority target undocumented immigrants in a xenophobic ballot initiative that passed before courts struck it down. I’ve seen violence break out between Black, Latino, and Asian immigrant communities. I’ve seen administrators in the UC system apologize for engaging in racist discrimination against Asian Americans…

“Supporters of racial preferences may imagine competent technocrats dispassionately factoring in race to correct for adversity suffered by marginalized groups, but I believe most humans tend to be irrational and corrupted when empowered to racially discriminate––a risk that is too fraught to tolerate. California has always owed its exceptional success to its ability to attract people from all over the world. It was as wildly diverse as anywhere on Earth way back in 1860. Today it is one of the world’s most successful experiments in people of all sorts living together in peace and prosperity. Nothing would threaten its success more than political balkanization along racial or ethnic lines by identity groups engaging in a zero-sum competition.”
Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic

On the bright side...

Get troll-free political news.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.