In a landmark decision, the US Supreme Court has upheld race-conscious voting protections, a significant victory for civil rights advocates. This ruling could also have implications for affirmative action policies, which are currently under review by the court.
A Glint of Hope Amidst the Bleak
The US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold race-conscious voting protections has sparked a glint of hope amongst civil rights advocates. This comes after the court’s controversial decision last year to abolish women’s access to abortion, which cast a shadow over the future of affirmative action and other longstanding precedents. The court’s recent ruling, which reinforced the Voting Rights Act’s power to protect voters from racial discrimination, is seen as a promising omen for the preservation of race consciousness in other arenas.
The Case at Hand
The case was brought by a group of voters in Arizona who argued that two state laws disproportionately affected minority voters. The court’s decision to uphold the laws could set a precedent for future cases involving voting rights and race-conscious policies.
“The Alabama decision validated what we in the civil-rights community have been saying all along: race matters.” – Damon Hewitt, the executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Implications for Affirmative Action
The court’s decision could have far-reaching implications for affirmative action policies. Of particular note is the court’s upcoming decision on whether to end race-related affirmative action in colleges and universities. Affirmative action in higher education met its first challenge in 1978, in a case involving Allan Bakke, a white man who was denied admission to the University of California at Davis medical school. Bakke argued that he was twice denied entry to the medical program, which reserved 16 slots each year for “qualified” applicants of color, because he was white.
In a precedent-setting case in 2003, Grutter v Bollinger, the court ruled that higher education institutions can factor in race as a means of achieving diversity at colleges and universities because it represented a “compelling governmental interest.” Now the Grutter case is under attack thanks in part to a yearslong campaign by the conservative activist Edward Blum and by legal groups focused on curtailing race-specific civil rights protections in American society.
The Intricacies of the Decision
The Alabama case focused on the state legislature’s “colorblind” approach to redistricting, which resulted in just one majority-Black district in a state where 27% of the population is Black. The court’s decision has now paved the way for a potential second majority-Black district, which could significantly impact the political landscape.
In the majority opinion, the conservative chief justice, John Roberts, acknowledged concerns that the Voting Rights Act “may impermissibly elevate race in the allocation of political power”. Yet, he and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who broke with the conservative majority, did not find these concerns sufficient to overturn decades of previous court rulings.
“… the Court simply holds that a faithful application of precedent and a fair reading of the record do not bear those concerns out here,” Roberts wrote.
The Road Ahead
The Alabama case indicates that, when it comes to race-consciousness, the perceived fixed conservative supermajority may be flexible. However, the voting histories of justices Roberts and Kavanaugh show that any prediction about the impending affirmative action decision is difficult to make. And even though Roberts’s majority opinion was incisive, and Kavanaugh’s support was stunning, experts believe they should be considered cautiously. Having largely rejected race-conscious policies until this week, these two justices hold ideas about the practice that remain uncertain.
Some legal experts argue that Roberts’ reliance on precedent and trial record in this case could bode well for the court’s ruling on race-consciousness in college admissions, which is expected sometime this month. Similar to the protections enacted under the Voting Rights Act, colleges and universities have taken race into account during their intake processes. The practice has helped generations of Black and brown students gain access to institutions of higher education.
The Impact of Diversity
Deborah Archer, the co-faculty director of New York University’s Center on Race, Inequality and the Law, suggests that diversity within the court itself could have influenced the decision. She points to Kavanaugh’s history of hiring Black law clerks as a possible influencing factor.
“Having a diverse group of clerks influences discussions in the way that it does in the classroom and the workplace – just having a more diverse group of people who bring different lived experiences to these questions will be helpful,” Archer said.
However, she cautions against making assumptions about Kavanaugh’s future decisions based on this single ruling. Kavanaugh’s legal record before this week’s ruling indicates that he is more likely to embrace race-neutrality.
“It would be a mistake to assume that [Kavanaugh] will be a vote who will regularly support affirmative action or diversity programs,” Shaw said.
A Cautious Optimism
Despite the cautious optimism, it’s clear that the fight for race-conscious policies is far from over. The upcoming decision on affirmative action policies will be a crucial test for the Supreme Court and its stance on race-consciousness. As the nation waits for this decision, the recent ruling serves as a reminder of the court’s power to shape the landscape of civil rights in America.
The Unpredictability of the Court
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Alabama case has shown that the court’s perceived conservative supermajority may not be as fixed as once thought. This unpredictability adds a layer of complexity to the upcoming decision on affirmative action policies.
In the past, both Roberts and Kavanaugh have sided with the conservative majority in upholding voting restrictions and allowing election maps that lower courts found to be illegally gerrymandered. However, their recent decision to uphold race-conscious voting protections in Alabama suggests a potential shift in their stance.
“Thursday’s majority opinion, though, was really kind of a push back to the sense that we have to have a colorblind, race-neutral approach in everything that the government does,” Archer noted.
The Impending Decision on Affirmative Action
The court’s impending decision on affirmative action policies is expected to have far-reaching implications. The decision could potentially redefine the landscape of higher education and significantly impact the opportunities available to Black and brown students.
The court’s decision will also be a crucial test for the concept of race-consciousness in American law. If the court decides to uphold race-conscious affirmative action policies, it could set a precedent for future cases involving race-conscious policies and further solidify the court’s stance on the issue.
The Future of Race-Conscious Policies
The future of race-conscious policies in America is uncertain. However, the Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold race-conscious voting protections has sparked hope amongst civil rights advocates. As the nation waits for the court’s decision on affirmative action policies, the fight for race-conscious policies continues.
“Race matters,” Damon Hewitt, the executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, succinctly stated.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s recent decision has shown that the fight for race-conscious policies is far from over. The court’s upcoming decision on affirmative action policies will be a crucial test for the future of race-consciousness in American law. As the nation waits for this decision, the recent ruling serves as a reminder of the court’s power to shape the landscape of civil rights in America.