Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1

Fair access or special



n 2003 the US Supreme Court ruled 5–4 in
favour of the University of Michigan’s Law
School policy that favoured underrepresented
minority groups, on the grounds that it served
the end of a diverse student body rather being a
racial quota system (which would have been
illegal). The majority judgement did, however,
state that in 25 years’ time the policy should be
In 2006 the voters of Michigan narrowly
passed an amendment to the state constitution
banning the use of racial preferences in university
admissions policies. After being overturned by a
lower court the issue eventually – in 2014 – went
to the Supreme Court, which voted 6–2 in favour
of the right of states to determine their policies

on affirmative action, and thus the amendment
was deemed constitutional.
While the judgements of the Supreme Court
should not be interpreted straightforwardly as
a rejection of ‘positive discrimination’ (as one
element of ‘affirmative action’) they are part of
a broader pushback against the policy in the
United States. That policy raises interesting
questions about equality: does it entail discrimin-
ation? Are white students being treated unfairly?
Could it be interpreted as serving the end of
equality – that is, it is short-term discrimination
against one group in order to overcome deeply
entrenched unequal treatment of other groups?
(This is implied in the claim made in 2003 that
the policy should be redundant by 2028).

Michigan University students celebrate the 2003 Supreme Court ruling in favour
of racial preferences in university admissions
© Gregory Shamus/Reuters/Corbis
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