There are two issues in this week’s column: one local and one national. The first, briefly stated, is where are the trees they promised? Has anyone paid much attention to the Crenshaw/King corridor lately? It was promised by the city authorities that the permanent trees along the right-of-way for the movement of the space shuttle to Exposition Park would be replaced.
Well, where are they? To be sure, a very few of the needed trees were replanted and replaced, but for the most part, the promised work has not been done. What is it with public officials giving their word, only to break it with impunity while hoping the public is distracted and no one notices. Is the only way to get good governance to keep an eye on elected officials 24/7 in order to expose them, and/or hold them accountable when they do not do the job they got elected or hired or appointed to do? Doesn’t integrity and being a man and woman of one’s word count for anything anymore in politics? Why take the job if one is not going to do it?
To whoever is in charge, where are the damn trees? Would this happen in Westwood, Culver City or Brentwood? Don’t African Americans deserve a decent looking neighborhood, too ?
The second issue concerns Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion in the Fisher v. University of Texas affirmative action case just announced on Monday by the Supreme Court. Incorrectly called Thomas’ dissenting opinion by a lot of the media, Justice Thomas demonstrates in his reasoning just how far we have not come in this country. (By the way, in the 7-1 vote, the dissenting opinion was written by Justice Ginsberg, with Justice Kagan recusing herself.) It also reiterates the importance of going to the source of an issue, rather than to merely depend on someone else’s interpretation of that source or that issue.
To be clear, the recent court decision in Fisher did not gut educational affirmative action in the country. In fact, the decision reinforced the court’s doctrine articulated in the landmark Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) affirmative action case, that essentially said that race, ethnicity and gender can be used in admissions decisions in public colleges and universities, as long as neither is used as a primary or unilateral factor.
The race, ethnicity or gender of a student candidate for admission must be part of a broader mix of factors collectively used to make admissions decisions.
Justice Thomas, in his opinion concurring with the decision to send the case back to the Court of Appeals, also wrote that he wanted to overturn the Grutter case. In his view, governmental racial discrimination, even when used for a positive purpose, was illegal based on the 14th Amendment. Every student must be provided the equal protection of the law.
He saw the University of Texas at Austin’s process for determining law school admittances as discrimination against the White student Amy Fisher in favor of admitting Black and Hispanic students. To him, race/ethnicity was the key factor in the admissions decision, which made it racial discrimination, even though the university provided evidence that race/ethnicity was but one of several factors equally considered.
The Grutter case involved the University of Michigan’s law school, and in it the court said there must be strict scrutiny used by colleges and universities in evaluating whether their admissions processes were as race-neutral as possible to achieve whatever compelling educational objective was sought after. In the Fisher case, the court said that strict scrutiny may not have been used in evaluating the University of Texas admissions process, and suggested that the Appeals Court, which had sent the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, review the case again based on that strict scrutiny doctrine.
Meanwhile, in reporting this news, both CNN and MSNBC, and other outlets, reported that Justice Thomas had compared antebellum slavery in America with affirmative action, saying that they were virtually the same. I am no fan of Justice Thomas, but I read the published version of his opinion. It made no such comparison. He did say that arguments slaveholders and segregationists made, e.g., that slavery was good for the Negro, and it had both civilized him and saved him from savagery, were similar to arguments being made by the University of Texas that by using race to make admissions decisions the university was benefiting Black Americans by making them more successful.
To Justice Thomas, this appeal to the consequences of belief argument was invalid in both cases, and should have led the court to overturn the university’s admissions process.
Affirmative action is still a white-hot topic in American education, if not now in employment. Even California has been urged to re-look at its Prop 209 prohibition against affirmative action in public education to see if the state’s law can pass the strict scrutiny evaluation. Otherwise, the ACLU may get a Supreme Court review of the validity of Prop 209 in the very near future. That would be a fight worth seeing.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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