Affirmative action has stirred controversy across the country for years. Now, it might be on the brink of extinction for good.
On Dec. 9, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the Fisher v. University of Texas case, in which the plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, said she was denied admission to the university because of its affirmative action policies.
This is the second time the case has made its way to the Supreme Court. In 2013, the court heard the case, but dismissed it because it decided the lower court did not apply the correct standard of review, which the court said should have been strict scrutiny.
Under this standard, the law or policy must pass a three-point test, in which it justifies a compelling government interest, is as narrowly tailored as possible and applies the minimum amount of restrictions to support the interest.
The case was sent back to the lower courts, but two years later, the Supreme Court agreed to hear it again.
“Practically speaking, this second Fisher case could be the death knell for the practice of affirmative action,” said James Beckman, chairman of the UCF legal studies department.
Back in 2003, the Supreme Court set a 25-year goal of eliminating affirmative action practices in college admissions. The court has already placed limitations on practices still allowed by public universities, making affirmative action a policy that can only be used with strict scrutiny. It has yet to outlaw the practice altogether; however, many states and universities have already gotten rid of these programs, including Florida.
In 1999, then Gov. Jeb Bush issued an executive order that prohibited public Florida universities from using race in determining college admissions.
“As of 2015, eight states have prohibited the use of race-conscious affirmative action preferences as a matter of state law involving public education, including California, Michigan, Florida, Washington, Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire and Oklahoma,” Beckman said. “Thus, the time period of America’s experimentation with affirmative action appears to be rapidly closing.”
The ruling could still have some impact in Florida because private universities aren’t included under the state’s affirmative action ban. However, private universities still have to follow the limitations placed on their policies by the Supreme Court.
Although UCF will not be affected by the case, students are still divided by the issue.
Courtney Powell, a health services administration senior and the president of the Black Student Union, said that she agreed with outlawing the use of race in the college admissions process.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to have race … it shouldn’t be a contributing factor,” Powell said. “In the past, yes, it helped students … but nowadays, universities are becoming so much more diverse.”
She said that the country has come so far in terms of its diversity that outlawing these policies wouldn’t limit or change how universities treat minority students. In fact, Powell said she thinks these policies are hurting minorities.
“Affirmative action, to me, sometimes makes me feel like people just want to know that these are the token people of this minority group,” she said.
On the opposing side is Thibault Adda, a master’s student in mass media communication and president of the International Student Association. He said universities should keep their affirmative action policies.
“I agree with those policies. In France, we have policies to ensure all ethnicities and social categories have an equal chance to go to college and get scholarship,” Adda said. “Data shows that ethnicity and social categories and quality or level of education are related, and when we consider the expensive tuitions of U.S. colleges, I think it is fair and that’s why there are scholarships for minorities.”
One of the many points that proponents of affirmative action argue is that these policies help correct the de facto segregation that still exists across the country, wherein some minority students’ social and economic backgrounds put them at a disadvantage.
“In a way, those programs acknowledge that there is something wrong in the society, that students are not equal when they apply because they did not get the same education and support,” Adda said.
With a country and nine justices still divided by the issue, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case later this year.
“The looming question in front of the Court now is now whether affirmative action,” Beckman said, “which was always viewed as a temporary policy measure, has run its course and largely accomplished its intended results.”
Affirmative Action Timeline
1961: President John F. Kennedy issues executive order 10925, which requires federal contractors to "take affirmative action" to ensure there is no racial bias in employment for federal projects.
1964: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on race, religion or national origin.
1978: The Supreme Court hears the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case and rules that colleges can't use racial quotas, but can still use race as a factor in admission.
1997: Two cases are filed against the University of Michigan in federal courts by students who claim they were denied admission from the school because of the unfair advantage given to other students due to race.
1999: Florida Gov. Jeb Bush bans affirmative action in an executive order.
2003: The Supreme Court hears both cases and rules that race can be a factor in universities' admissions, but cannot be an overriding factor.
2008: Abigail Fisher sues the University of Texas, saying the school should not use race as a factor in admission that favors some minority students over whites and Asian-Americans.
2013: The Supreme Court hears the Fisher case, but sends it back to the lower court for further review.
2014: The Supreme Court upholds Michigan's 2006 law banning the use of racial criteria in college admissions.
2015: The Supreme Court hears oral arguments for the Fisher case a second time, with a decision expected in 2016.
*Information taken from CNN.com
Deanna Ferrante is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future.