The Supreme Court isn’t always wrong


I only have one data point, named Joe as it turns out, but, as Michele Stern says: One data point may not be proof but it is still a data point.

The Supreme Court ruled against Affirmative Action a couple of days ago (even though they did not couch it in those terms, everybody else seems to). Adam Liptak of the New York Times wrote: In a fractured decision that revealed deep divisions over what role the judiciary should play in protecting racial and ethnic minorities, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a Michigan constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action in admissions to the state’s public universities.

Contrary to most of the columnists and bloggers I admire, I think that the Supreme Court is right. The operative part of the NYT quote above is  what role the judiciary should play in protecting racial and ethnic minorities and the implication is that giving racial and ethnic minorities special rights protects those minorities. I don’t think it does and I have my reasons.

My only data point is from when I had a development company and we hired a Stanford MBA for the the job of Construction Manager. It was probably in the mid-80s and his name was Joe. Joe was a full blooded American Indian and the job didn’t work out. Not because he he was an Indian – obviously – but because he did not like making decisions that didn’t have clear-cut answers. He didn’t like the stress. When we talked about going our separate ways, he asked me why I had hired him. I told him it was because he was a Stanford MBA and he answered something like Yeh, but I only got in because I am an Indian. I have no idea if that is true or not but he, clearly, thought so and, I suspect, many of his fellow students did also.

I think that Affirmative Action misidentifies the problem. The problem is that a huge proportion of racial and ethnic minorities – we are using racial and ethnic minorities as a euphemism for African Americans and Hispanics here in California – are poor. They come from poor families, poor neighborhoods, and they have almost no exposure to what they need to prosper in our society including useful connections. Most importantly and most powerfully, they come from substandard schools and they get a poor educations compared to their peers from affluent areas.

As an aside, those schools are substandard not as a result of chance, but because of Government Policy. In California, and – I think – every state, schools are primarily supported by the State, but, when State funds are cut, affluent local areas make up the difference or send their kids to private schools. In Portola Valley, where I live, the locals voted to raise taxes to compensate for State education cuts (not me, other locals). Portola Valley is a Liberal – even if somewhat Libertarian – town that prides itself on having voted for Obama and Anna Eshoo, but being able to compensate for for State cuts in Education makes it much easier to ignore those cuts. End aside.

Giving African Americans and Hispanics Special Rights just pisses off those whites – and probably Asians – that feel that the Special Right of Affirmative Action is unfair. That those Special Rights are an attempt – no matter how ineffective – at compensation for the screwing the affirmed minorities got in the first place, is forgotten or was never considered. It is easy to say that those pissed off whites are wrong – or racist – but that doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t make them less pissed and, in most cases, it doesn’t make them want  to improve minority education.

For whatever reason, the people of Michigan voted against Affirmative Action and I think the court was right in upholding that vote. Jamming Affirmative Action down their throats would not solve the problem, it would just build resentment and resentment is part of the problem. After what I just wrote, it may not be obvious that I think everybody deserves a good education, but I do. I think that giving everybody the best education that they can absorb should be one of the main jobs of our government; it is way more important than killing illiterate Taliban in Afghanistan. I think that education should be free, good, and equal for all Citizens. It is not only a moral imperative but a better educated Citizenry makes for a healthier country. But, the Affirmative Action that Michigan voted against, didn’t do that, it only made some people feel better about themselves without solving the problem and it made even more people angry and resistant.

My only complaint with the new Section 26 of Article I of  the Michigan Constitution is that it does not go far enough, it should also eliminate legacy Affirmative Action. The idea that an Alumni’s kid should get preference at State schools, paid for by taxpayers, is wrong and unfair and should also be eliminated. Hopefully this Supreme Court ruling will get people thinking about how to solve the real problem.

One suggestion that I have read and that appeals to me is that the top students from every high-school get to go to the top Universities in the State. There are somewhere in the order of 2100 high-schools in California so there would be plenty of room for the top five students from each school. That would mean that the top five students from Woodside High or Redwood High would be automatically eligible for Cal or UCLA or Davis, et al. The top five students from Compton High or Fresno High would also be automatically eligible.

I am sure that there are other good ideas out there, but traditional Affirmative Action isn’t one of them.

2 thoughts on “The Supreme Court isn’t always wrong

  1. I think you’re right, Steve… I heard retired Justice John Paul Stevens interviewed this morning on this subject. He said, first, that the case was not really about what people thought it was, and as you said, it was more about how these decisions are made, and who has the right to make them (state or federal). As an example, when my son was taking SATs and applying to colleges, he suddenly started getting invitations to apply from MIT, Stanford, and others. We were shocked, until it dawned on me to ask him what race category he had chosen. He saw American, and thought that was the right answer, ignoring the word Native. He would have failed horribly at any of these schools, whether they had ultimately given him a degree or not.

    1. And I think you are right, Gail. Often, we hold “sacred truths” without really looking at them, especially if we have not had any direct experience.

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