Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Supreme Court does minorities a favor

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 2:36 PM EDT, Mon June 24, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette says affirmative action ruling is a signal
  • He says court requiring universities to demonstrate justification for the program
  • Navarrette: A generation ago, affirmative action was needed to remedy wrongs
  • He says his children are being raised with every advantage

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

San Diego, California (CNN) -- The Supreme Court just did Latinos and African-Americans a big favor.

It showed the two minority groups most impacted by affirmative action the writing on the wall and prodded them to end their crippling dependence on a program that, while intended to help them when it was designed a half-century ago, now arguably does them harm.

On the surface, with its lopsided 7-to-1 ruling in Fisher v. The University of Texas, the Supreme Court resolved to do not that much.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

The justices ducked the weightier constitutional concerns involved in the issue of whether colleges and universities can take an applicant's race or ethnicity into account. But they did scold the lower courts for their handling of the case and demand that they give the facts and the law another look.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy pointed out that the Supreme Court had previously set a standard of "strict scrutiny" -- by which the burden lies on institutions of higher learning to show that they couldn't have gotten where they wanted to go in terms of achieving a diverse student body by using "race-neutral alternatives." The lower courts didn't hold the University of Texas at Austin to that standard, Kennedy said, and so they need a do-over.

The court's four most conservative justices agreed with Kennedy, but so did Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, who are more liberal.

Let's give the majority of the justices some credit for not getting too carried way with the notion of victimhood. They could have suggested, along with Justice Clarence Thomas, that Abigail Fisher -- the onetime applicant to the University of Texas at Austin who was at the center of the case -- is the modern-day equivalent of those African-Americans who, in the pre-civil rights era, were routinely discriminated against and denied admission to colleges and universities because of their race. Thomas essentially compared what the University of Texas at Austin does now to what the University of Mississippi was doing in 1963.

Seriously? Here's what really happened in the Lone Star State. When Fisher applied in 2008, the university set aside three-fourths of its available slots to students who graduated in the top 10% of their high school classes. (Today, it's 8%.)

Fisher's academics weren't strong enough to get her into that category; she graduated in the top 12%. And rather than admit that she should have earned better grades, she got angry with the university which doled out other slots under a process that weighed several factors including race and socioeconomic status.

After all, a diverse state deserves a diverse class of leaders. Texas is 12% African-American and 38% Latino while the student body at UT Austin -- with its 52,000 students -- is just 4.5% African-American and 18% Latino.

Curiously, Fisher blamed the university's policy -- rather than her own academic shortcomings -- for not getting into the University of Texas. And then, she filed a lawsuit. She found her way to Louisiana State University, and the case bearing her name quickly found its way to the Supreme Court, where it was welcomed onto the docket by five justices who were already itching to strike down affirmative action.

Despite what Justice Thomas would like to believe, Fisher is no victim. Had she worked a little harder in high school, she might have gotten into college on "the 10% rule" and saved us all a lot of drama. Besides, aren't conservatives the ones who are always talking about merit? Yet, here they went to bat for mediocrity.

It is simply not the case that white people are -- in the admissions process -- being subjected to some wholesale form of discrimination because they have long been considered inferior due to skin color. They don't need to link arms and sing: "We Shall Overcome."

Now, if you want to see real victims, look at African-American and Latino students who are being shortchanged by the public school system because those who teach them harbor low expectations. This is one of the most serious problems with racial and ethnic preferences -- that they camouflage what are often severe educational inequalities at the critical K-12 level. They can also lower standards, kill incentive, provide a crutch, attach a stigma to beneficiaries, and perpetuate a destructive spoils system that benefits a few at the expense of the many.

My parents' generation suffered real discrimination, and so it made sense to give it a leg-up through affirmative action. But it makes no sense to transfer that privilege to my children...
Ruben Navarrette

These programs should have come with an expiration date. It's been more than 50 years since President John F. Kennedy signed -- on March 6, 1961 -- Executive Order 10925, instructing U.S. government contractors to take "affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin."

My parents' generation suffered real discrimination, and so it made sense to give it a leg up through affirmative action. But it makes no sense to transfer that privilege to my children, who are being raised with every advantage. When that sort of thing happens, it only makes the public more cynical and bitter.

The Supreme Court gave affirmative action in college and university admissions a reprieve this week, but it won't last long. The justices have another case on their docket for the fall.

The hour is late. Latinos and African-Americans have the chance to end their dependence on a program that is taking them nowhere, and the rest of us can focus on fixing a broken educational system so that more students of color can succeed on the natural and go anywhere they want to go.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT