Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Harvard case to end affirmative action?

An inflection point may be at hand.  For decades the U.S. Supreme Court has permitted the compromise of Constitutional equal protection rights to permit what can be broadly described as affirmative action.   The ongoing lawsuit by people of Asian ancestry against Harvard University’s admissions policies may well be the case that ends any consideration of race in education or employment.  If so, a broad social and political upheaval may occur as any form of race conscious government action is banned.

Students for Fair Admission (SFA) is pursuing a lawsuit against Harvard University contending that the admissions process discriminates against Americans of Asian descent contrary to the requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Title VI bans discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin. Title VI, and the associated Title VII that bans discrimination in employment, flow from equal protection rights contained within the U.S. Constitution.

About 100 years ago Harvard ended its tradition of admitting students based strictly on academic performance in favor of a holistic method that considered elements such as personality and geography.  This shift originally occurred in response to a perceived over representation of Jewish students.   The change in policy reduced the percentage of Jewish students from nearly 30 percent to 10 percent in short order.

Regardless of how the current case concludes, it inevitably will be appealed and potentially wind its way to the Supreme Court.  If it does unfold in this manner the case may well settle definitively what has been a building trend in the court against compromising the equal protection rights of one group to address past wrongs inflicted on members of another group.
In the aftermath of the civil rights movement and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 major transforming actions were ordered.  Chief among them was the desegregation of schools.   The impact of the order was not immediately as fruitful as expected in correcting long standing issues.  People of all races were not comfortable with sending their children to different schools.  Some courts ordered busing and other actions to bring about integration. 

The law failed to integrate college campuses.   In response, many colleges began voluntary affirmative action to attempt to raise the very low or even non-existent presence of minorities on their campuses.   Many colleges basically implemented programs to raise the number of minorities by establishing quotas and target percentage goals.  Student applicants that were qualified but rejected brought legal suits against colleges that employed these methods.

Regents of the Univ of California v Bakke was a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case of primary significance in these suits.  The Court ruled in Bakke that there was a compelling state interest in promoting diversity in higher education.   The Court went to great lengths to state that race could be one of many considerations in building diversity but demanded strict scrutiny and narrow application.   It specifically ruled that quotas and any single consideration of race were unconstitutional.

This interpretation held sway with minor objection for many years and was reaffirmed in a 2003 case, Grutter v. Bollinger.  However, the Court is unsettled on this conflict with equal protection.  The roots of undoing affirmative action were clear in the non-majority decision in Bakke and the 5-4 decision of Grutter.   In Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007) Chief Justice John Roberts said, ‘‘The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.’’

In Ricci v Destefano (2009) the Supreme Court ruled in favor of 20 New Haven firefighters that claimed discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 after the city declined to promote them despite their passing required tests.   The court ruled in their favor but did not address head on the conflict with equal protection.  Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in a concurring opinion said the Court “merely postpones the evil day on which the Court will have to confront the question: Whether, or to what extent, are the disparate-impact provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 consistent with the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection?”

The case of SFA v Harvard may well prove to be the case of reckoning on this issue.  In Grutter Justice Scalia said the college’s admissions policies, “show it to be a sham to cover a scheme of racially proportionate admissions.”  He would likely say the same of Harvard's policy of the 1920s and 2018.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his Grutter opinion, “the majority has placed its imprimatur on a practice that can only weaken the principle of equality embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Equal Protection Clause. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”

The current makeup of the court – now dominated by textualist and originalist judicial philosophy - may indicate the probability the Court will take up the issue on appeal of SFA v Harvard is high.   Its decision in such a case may be led by Justice Clarence Thomas.  Thomas has throughout his judicial career adamantly opposed race-based affirmative action.

A narrow decision may rule that any form of consideration of race in admissions to higher education is unconstitutional.    Broader decisions may extend that judgement to employment and may even overturn the Court’s past judgement that there is a compelling state interest to promote diversity.

In a society seemingly obsessed with identity and diversity one cannot doubt that such a decision will have major repercussions.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Supreme Court’s Politicization – can we fix it?

The Republic is in a bind.  The nation is divided almost evenly from left to right.   The division over a generation has grown worse and infected the Supreme Court of the United States.  After the present confirmation process is completed there must be an effort to find a way to end this politicization of the Supreme Court and ensure that it remains the legitimate arbiter of the Constitution.

Article III of the U.S. Constitution states the “judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court.”  Article II of the Constitution gives the President the power, “with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, … [to] appoint … Judges of the supreme Court.  The power imbued to the Supreme Court as the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution is uniquely American.
Before the Constitution was adopted there was great debate.  Alexander Hamilton wrote Federalist Paper No. 78 about the judicial power under the pen name Publius.  An opposing view was written in Brutus No. 15 by an unknown author.  Brutus’ overarching concern was that the Supreme Court, as ultimate authority of what the Constitution meant was unchecked due to its position and lifetime tenure of its members.  He said, “In short, they are independent of the people, of the legislature, and of every power under heaven. Men placed in this situation will generally soon feel themselves independent of heaven itself.”

Hamilton saw this state as a positive aspect of the Constitution.  He answered Brutus arguing that the independence and lifelong appointment would “secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws.”  He contended that the judiciary “will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution” because it held no power of the purse (Legislative) or the sword (Executive).

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Obituaries - a favorite read

OK, Ok, you might be questioning this somewhat off the path title on my blog.  But I love to read obituaries in the weekend newspapers.   In a time when we are so distracted with technology I recommend reading them to get a better perspective.

One of my favorite obituaries that remains firm in my mind was that of Maureen O’Donnell.  She passed away in Annandale, Virginia on February 20, 1989 at the young age of 58 of cancer.  She had suffered greatly in life – losing 4 of her 6 children to cystic fibrosis.   But that did not stop her.  She only channeled her love to her students at W.T. Woodson High School where she taught Latin.  She was viewed as both a mother and teacher by her students.

She was remembered as a “small woman infused with boundless energy, [who] built one of the nation's strongest high school Latin programs from scratch, inspiring hundreds of students not only to study a "dead" language but to revere such traits as honor, compassion and understanding.”  She was awarded with an honorary doctorate by Yale and as Virginia Teacher of the Year in 1982 for the program she created.

Friday, August 3, 2018

The workforce is doing well

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) today released its “Employment Situation Report” for July, 2018.   It is a very positive report that continues to reflect an improved workforce environment.
Workforce health is related to the overall health of the economy: Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reportedly increased 4.1% in the second quarter of this year – a high growth rate;   measures of business and consumer confidence are high;  wages may finally be rising in a tight labor market;  inflation is holding at about 2%; the stock market remains at very high levels.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Constitutional Education Opportunity – Kavanaugh Confirmation

The impending confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court promise once again to be an education bonanza for the American people – as long as Senators do not muck it up with too much partisan bickering.

The Supreme Court history can be broken down, according to Cass R. Sunstein’s “Unanimity and Disagreement on the Supreme Court” into two periods: 1800-1941 and 1941 to present.  The earlier period was one of great harmony with a very high rate of unanimous decisions and almost no dissenting opinions.  After 1941 there was a major shift to a Court that was less based on consensus and more like “nine separate law offices.”  Consenting opinions, dissents, and 5-4 decisions were far more common.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Post Parkland (and now Santa Fe) - Call to action

Immediately following the Parkland mass public shooting, I asked readers of the Liberty Takes Effort blog to ACT by contacting their governors and state legislators to demand immediate passage of Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws within their states.
If you acted - great.  I am going to ask you to do more to protect children in our schools.   If you did not – you can jump on board now.

The fatal shooting of 10 and wounding of 14 at Santa Fe High School in Texas last week is just one more warning that this can happen anywhere.

Florida passed an ERPO law within weeks of the Parkland mass public shooting.  Reasonable people demanded reasonable action and reasonable elected officials acted.   Florida’s new law has been used several times already to intervene and separate a person at the intersection of dangerousness and fire arm access. 

Vermont and Rhode Island recently passed ERPO laws and 20 additional states are considering them (AK, AL, AZ, HI, IA, IL, MA [legislature voting very soon], ME, MI, MN, MS, NJ, NV, NY, OR, PA, TN, TX, VA, WY.)  Is your state listed?   Is it not?  Have you expressed your opinion to your state legislator and governor?  Have you encouraged your family and friends to take action?  Waiting for the next election is not the answer!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Post Parkland – dangerousness and fire arm access

Dangerous people should not have access to fire arms.  On this subject there seems to be near universal agreement.  Laws, regulations, and enforcement are required to intervene and prevent people who are dangerous from purchasing or possessing fire arms.

Controversy arises largely in the defining of dangerousness.  Mental health professionals fear the mentally ill generally will be further stigmatized and isolated.  Civil rights defenders fear abuse of civil rights without clear definitions and strict adherence to due process.  These are legitimate concerns that must be addressed in the development of policies.

There are existing federal and state laws that prohibit specific categories of dangerous people from purchasing fire arms. For example, people involuntarily committed to a mental institution, or found not guilty by reason of insanity, or who committed a violent act towards others and are the subject of a domestic violence restraining order, or have been convicted of a felony, or have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor.