The Great Debate II: Preceding Cases


Kathryn Bethea
The Fourteenth Amendment, Brown vs. Board I and II, and the Bakke Case

The spirit of the Fourteenth Amendment, Brown I and II, Civil Rights Acts, and prior judicial findings is that governmental interests in race-conscious policies is non-remedial to promote educational diversity. Brown I and II decisions and the Civil Rights Acts were made to end the past discriminatory laws and regulations prior to 1954. Moreover, in the present time, It is hard to argue how past discrimination has affected education.

The Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause states, ” All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The Brown I and II decisions put into motion laws and policies to enable all citizens basic rights as Americans, especially education. In Brown vs. Board of Education I, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), the court ruled that Segregation of students in public schools violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because separate facilities are inherently unequal. The court stated, “The question presented in these cases must be determined, not on the basis of conditions existing when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, but in the light of the full development of public education and its present place in American life throughout the Nation. Where a State has undertaken to provide an opportunity for an education in its public schools, such an opportunity is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms. Segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race deprives children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal.”

“Minors of the Negro race, through their legal representatives, sought the aid of the courts in obtaining admission to the public schools of their community on a nonsegregated basis. In each instance, they had been denied admission to schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting segregation according to race. This segregation was alleged to deprive the plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. We must look instead to the effect of segregation itself on public education. We must consider public education in the light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout the Nation. Only in this way can it be determined if segregation in public schools deprives these plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws.”

The court continued, “Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”

In Brown vs. Board of Education II, 349 U.S. 294 (1955), The court stated, “Racial discrimination in public education is unconstitutional, and all provisions of federal, state or local law requiring or permitting such discrimination must yield to this principle. School authorities have the primary responsibility for elucidating, assessing and solving the varied local school problems which may require solution in fully implementing the governing constitutional principles. Courts will have to consider whether the action of school authorities constitutes good faith implementation of the governing constitutional principles. In fashioning and effectuating the decrees, the courts will be guided by equitable principles – characterized by a practical flexibility in shaping remedies and a facility for adjusting and reconciling public and private needs.”

The Brown I and II decisions and the Civil Rights Acts put into motion laws and policies to enable all citizens basic rights as Americans, especially education. the narrow-tailoring inquiry required by strict scrutiny cannot be undertaken without constant reference to the core principles of Equal Protection. “Above all else, the framers of the Civil War Amendments intended to deny to the States the power to discriminate against persons on account of their race․

The Civil Rights Project overview of the constitutional requirements in race-conscious affirmative action policies in education (2002) states that “Almost all educational institutions are required to meet strict legal requirements when taking race into account in admissions, financial aid, student assignment, and other educational policy decisions. These requirements arise from the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which applies to “state actors” such as public school districts and public institutions of higher learning, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which applies to both public and private institutions that receive federal funds (pg. 1).”

Race-conscious policies are subject to “strict scrutiny” where the courts assess the importance of the goals underlying said policies and the means by which to attain these goals. A court evaluates whether State University’s race-conscious quota admission policy 1) serves a “compelling governmental interest” and 2) is narrowly tailored to satisfy the particular interest; 3) a “strong basis in evidence” is usually required to justify the disputed policy using anecdotal/historical, statistical/empirical, social science, prior judicial, and/or ongoing discrimination evidence. In this case we want to prove that the racial quota policy serves a compelling governmental interest but is not narrowly tailored nor has a strong basis in evidence.

The compelling interest in using a race-conscious policy can be A) remedial interest to remedy present effects of past discrimination or B) non-remedial interests such as promoting educational diversity. Some of the language used in compelling interest for remedial interests is “Remedying the present effects of past discrimination” or “passive participation theory.” Examples of non-remedial interests use language such as promoting educational diversity, reducing racial isolation, and promoting educational research. Therefore, in order to use a racial quota , State university needs to prove that it has both remedial and non-remedial interests in their race-conscious admission policy.

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke is a defining case in race-conscious admission policies. In University of California Regents vs. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978), the Court stated that classification by race should be subject to strict scrutiny, must serve a compelling state interest, and lesser limitation on the rights of majority students. Applying strict scrutiny, Justice Powell rejected almost all of the university’s proffered justifications for its consideration of race, but found the university’s goal of “attain[ing] a diverse student body” to be “clearly” a “constitutionally permissible goal for an institution of higher education.” According to Justice Powell, a university’s “interest in diversity is compelling in the context of a university’s admissions program,” in which “[e]thnic diversity is only one element in a range of factors a university properly may consider in attaining the goal of a heterogeneous student body.”

The university didn’t establish that the special admission program is less limiting for majority students or the most effective for minority students. The court stated that the university needed a more aggressive nonracial program to recruit minorities. The admission process did show that some minority students were admitted with lower test scores and grade point averages than majority peers who were rejected. Also, the university did not show proof of admission discrimination prior to 1969. Therefore, the court upheld the goal of obtaining the educational benefits that flow from from a diverse student body could survive strict judicial scrutiny. The court upheld that diversity goals are important. The court concluded that the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution 14th Amendment applies to “any person.” The court’s decision was given to aid in the struggle to assure that each shall be judged on the basis of individual merit. The court concluded that the special program is invalid, the university is compelled to admit Bakke, and can no longer use race in the admission process. The equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution pertains to all persons, not just minority students, and, therefore, is violated when a special admission program does not guarantee the rights of all.

Justice Powell endorsed the constitutionality of the Harvard Plan, a “flexible” admissions program which treats race as one factor among many that may be considered in making admissions decisions. But Justice Powell also determined that the university’s rigid quota system was not narrowly tailored to serve any asserted interest in diversity, and hence the university’s admissions process was unlawful. Unlike the Harvard plan described by Justice Powell, some univeristy policies do not allow admissions officers to consider “all pertinent elements of diversity” such as the potential contribution to diversity of an applicant identified as Italian-American.

Justice Powell’s opinion in the Regents of University of California vs. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978) stated that, “the use of race as a “plus” factor among several admissions factors is a narrowly tailored policy to promote educational diversity. More importantly, “the use of quotas, set-asides, or exclusive admissions tracks that isolate particular applicants is not narrowly tailored.” Accordingly, an admissions policy that seeks to create a diverse student body by considering the race of applicants must do so in a sufficiently flexible way. It goes without saying that a university may not establish a quota system for members of certain racial groups, and may not put members of one racial group on a different and more lenient track than members of another group. Race-conscious admission policies like University of California’s special admission program and and State university’s racial quota system are not considered narrowly tailored by Justice Powell’s definition.

Narrow Tailoring of Race-Conscious Admission Policies
The narrowly tailoring requirement is, “designed to evaluate whether a race-conscious policy is necessary to satisfy a compelling governmental interest (Civil Rights Project, 2002, pg. 3).” In other words, the courts are evaluating the fit of the policy with its objective in promoting educational diversity. In the United States vs. Paradise, 480 U.S. 149 (1987)., the Supreme Court upheld a court-ordered promotion plan designed to remedy discrimination in public employment. “The race-conscious relief ordered by the District Court is justified by a compelling governmental interest in eradicating the Department’s pervasive, systematic, and obstinate discriminatory exclusion of blacks.” There were a number of factors that the court examines:
the necessity for the relief and the efficacy of alternative remedies,
the flexibility and duration of the relief, including the availability of waiver provisions
the relationship of numerical goals to the relevant market
the impact of the relief on the rights of third parties

In the Johnson vs. Board of Regents of University of Georgia, 263 F.3d 1234 (11th Cir. 2001) there were a few factors to determine whether a higher education admission policy was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest in promoting educational diversity. By using this criteria in evaluating State University’s race-conscious quota admission policy, there are many limits in the policy. For example, there is no set duration or flexibility of the policy, there is little impact on non-minorities but it has unnecessarily burdened minority applicants by preventing them from competing with minority applicants on an equal basis, and there is a weak relationship between the goals and the market because it does not prevent the harms of tokenism. The policy uses race in a rigid and mechanical way, it doesn’t take into account race-neutral factors in admission, it does give arbitrary or disproportionate benefit to members of a favored racial group; and evidently the school has not considered nor rejected race-neutral alternatives. A race-conscious admissions policy still must ensure that, even when using race as a factor, the weight accorded that factor is not subject to rigid or mechanical application, and remains flexible enough to ensure that each applicant is evaluated as an individual and not in a way that looks to her membership in a favored or disfavored racial group as a defining feature of her candidacy.

Second, the policy must ensure that race-neutral factors which contribute to a diverse student body are considered fully and fairly along with race in making admissions decisions. We assume that there is value in having a racially-diverse student body. But racial diversity alone is not necessarily the hallmark of a diverse student body, and race is not necessarily the only, or best, criterion for determining the contribution that an applicant might make to the broad mix of experiences and perspectives that creates the value UGA asserts in diversity. An admissions policy that seeks to achieve student body diversity by allowing some applicants to be treated more favorably than others based on race must ensure full and fair consideration of other, race-neutral characteristics that contribute to a truly diverse class of students.

Third, the policy must use race in a way that does not give an arbitrary or disproportionate benefit to members of the favored racial groups, and thereby unduly disadvantage applicants from outside the favored groups who may well add more to the overall diversity of the student body. Even when a race-conscious policy permits broad consideration of race-neutral factors that contribute to diversity, it may undervalue those factors in a way that makes race effectively the primary criterion for diversity.

Finally, a university defending a race-conscious admissions policy must show that it has genuinely considered, and rejected as inadequate, race-neutral alternatives for creating student body diversity. We have held that only as a “last resort” may race be used in awarding valuable public benefits such as government contracts. Race-based decision-making is at odds with the Constitution in any context, and before injecting race into the admissions process, a university should explore seriously and in good faith the wide variety of race-neutral measures that may enhance not only the overall diversity of the student body, but also racial diversity itself.


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