Commentary: The Supreme Court Turns Back the Clock

The court’s decision to uphold a ban on affirmative action programs at universities in Michigan is another assault on people of color.

Posted: 04/23/2014 10:42 AM EDT

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor made the case in impassioned and historically accurate language. In responding to the court’s disastrous decision on upholding Michigan’s ban on affirmative-action programs, she pointed out that the Constitution existed during some of the most egregious forms of racial discrimination and that additional work is needed to deal with the consequences of past discrimination.

The Constitution, she said, needed to be enforced with particular vigilance given the history of discrimination and “recent examples of discriminatory changes to state voting laws.”

In a searing and unusually strong dissent, she said: “The one and only policy a Michigan citizen may not seek through this long-established process,” she wrote, “is a race-sensitive admissions policy.”

Let’s be frank about it, the Supreme Court decision upholding Michigan’s decision to ban affirmative action in the state’s public universities is a dramatic setback for Americans, particularly African-American and Latino citizens. It effectively tosses out as irrelevant centuries of history and the impact that slavery, Jim Crow laws and outright legalized discrimination. It somehow pretends that America has moved to a colorblind society where racial discrimination simply doesn’t exist.

But, as most any African-American knows all too well, we’re living in an age where voting rights are being assaulted in a way that makes it more difficult for racial minorities to cast their ballots in 2014 not 1964. We’re in a nation where young Black men Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis, to name a few are shot to death simply because of their race.

It was an unfortunate and deeply harmful ruling. Recent statistics have demonstrated that enrollment of Black and Latino students in the most competitive, top-tier universities has declined in the aftermath of bans on affirmative action. Those bans have already taken place in Florida, California and, now, Michigan.

Some civil rights leaders have called for people to mobilize and undertake referendums in these and other states to reverse the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision.

Although a decidedly uphill battle, it is nonetheless a sensible approach given the blow the court struck against affirmative action. If nothing else, it will tell the nation that progressive minds around the country are willing to take action against what is an unreasonable and harmful court decision aimed at turning back the clock on American progress.

Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

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