Supreme Court Revisits Affirmative Action

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The U.S. Supreme Court announced yesterday it will revisit affirmative action early next year, returning to the issue after a quarter-century hiatus in what could potentially be the final word on the matter of race-based admissions at public universities.

Two related cases, involving undergraduate and law school admissions at the University of Michigan, will be heard by the court at an undetermined date in early spring.

While a 1978 decision struck down racial quotas, the court's actions yesterday indicate a readiness to decide unequivocally whether race may play even a cursory role in acceptance decisions.

"(These cases) present the issue squarely. The fact that they reached out to take one before it even reached the Court of Appeals is significant that they're prepared now to render a judgment," said UC Berkeley law professor Jesse Choper.

While a statutory ban on racial preferences would render an affirmative action decision moot in California, two UC Berkeley students and the student group BAMN elected to name themselves intervening codefendants in 1998.

"I decided to enter the case because we can't let the gains of our parents' generation be rolled back," said UC Berkeley graduate student Ronald Cruz, one of the codefendants.

Cruz added that, as a Pilipino American, he has benefited from racial preferences in being able to attend UC Berkeley.

UC Berkeley student Hoku Jeffrey, another of the codefendants, declined comment about his involvement.

BAMN, along with other national civil rights organizations, plans to march on Washington, D.C. while the cases are being heard before the court this spring.

"A victory would galvanize the movement here in California to restore affirmative action and move our state forward toward greater integration and equality," said UC Berkeley's BAMN spokesperson, Yvette Felarca.

Given the conservative makeup of the court, an eventual decision later this year may not be the resounding endorsement many BAMN members anticipate.

"I'd be very surprised if (the decision) is not 5-4. The deciding vote is that of Justice (Sandra Day) O'Connor, and I wouldn't be surprised if she doesn't know herself how she's going to come out at this point," Choper said.

When the Supreme Court denied racial quotas in 1978, the vote was 5-4.

Affirmative action programs have been under siege in recent years, most noticeably in California, where voters passed a ballot measure in 1996 banning the use of racial preferences by state agencies.

Supporters of this standing ban cite the dynamic nature of race and the politics of victimization as arguments against the use of racial preferences.

"If I'm an admissions officer at a college, I would like to judge the content of an applicant's character, not the color of their skin," said Berkeley College Republicans Senator Paul LaFata.


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