More Americans are turning away from affirmative action, claiming the practice is becoming irrelevant — including a majority of Whites who claim it’s turning into a system of reverse discrimination.
According to a poll conducted by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, only 45 percent of those surveyed felt that affirmative action was needed to combat discriminatory practices. That’s down from 1991, when 61 percent of Americans felt the program was necessary and beneficial.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, racial minorities’ share of the student body has increased since affirmative action policies were put in place. From 1976 through 2010, Black students grew from 9 percent of the college population to 14 percent, while Hispanic students grew from 3 percent to 13 percent of the total.
So, what’s the cause for America’s eroding opinion of affirmative action? It depends who is asked.
One respondent to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll claimed the program was now presenting a struggle for White people competing for the same jobs and schools as their Black colleagues.
“Right now, I feel like it’s reverse discrimination,” a 69-year-old retired teacher told NBC News. “I did support it at first, but, gradually, because of this reverse discrimination, it’s gone too far.”
Yet not everyone feels this way. While 6 in 10 White people claimed affirmative action wasn’t needed, 8 out of 10 Black respondents claimed it still is. A divide also was seen along party lines — 67 percent of Democrats favored it, compared to 22 percent of Republicans.
The split in public opinion comes as the Supreme Court is set to tackle a case involving affirmative action, 10 years after the court approved the use of race as a factor in the college admission process.
At the center of the case are two residents, Heman Marion Sweatt and Abigail Noel Fisher, who both claim their applications for the University of Texas at Austin were rejected based on their race. Fisher is White, while Sweatt is Black.
“There’s a good chance that affirmative action, at least in the case of education, is on the chopping block,” SCOTUSblog.com editor Thomas Goldstein told CNN.
Goldstein points to the retirement of former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as a key factor in what he expects will be a decision overturning Gratz v. Bollinger, a 2003 case in which she was a deciding factor.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who began serving on the Supreme Court in 2009, is a vocal advocate of affirmative action. In her memoir, Sotomayor stated that it was under affirmative action principles that she was accepted to Princeton University and Yale Law School.
The NAACP and the Obama administration have remained vocal proponents of the affirmative action program at the University of Texas in particular. The NAACP fears that, if the Supreme Court strikes down the school’s policy, it could have sweeping consequences for affirmative action, a tool it feels is still necessary to achieve equality.
“A broad ruling could have far reaching effects and could possibly affect the pathway to opportunity for minority students at a range of universities,” Debo Adegbile of the NAACP told CNN. “Not just at state universities, but at all institutions of higher education.”
This also isn’t the first time the Supreme Court has dabbled in the issue. In 2009, White firefighters in Connecticut filed a successful suit against the city for throwing out a written qualification test that indicated the plaintiffs were more qualified than their Black colleagues.
The station — and city — claimed it threw the tests out for fear they would be sued by the minority applicants. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that an institution could not change its application process solely for the reason of avoiding a discrimination lawsuit.
In 2003, the Supreme Court struck down rules at the University of Michigan that gave Hispanic and Black applicants “points” in their application process. That same program, however, was upheld at the university’s law school.
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