We’re With Justice Sotomayor on Affirmative Action

This weekend, Justice Sotomayor was on ABC’s “This Week” to make the case for affirmative action and to talk about her own experience with it. We have to say, when this wise Latina is right, she’s right!
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Advancing the Promise Made in Brown v. Board of Education 60 Years Later

By Leticia Bustillos, Associate Director, Education Policy Project, NCLR

BrownvBoard_FB-06 (2)_blogsThis weekend we commemorate the day the highest court in the land declared in one voice that “separate but equal” has no place in our country and that all children, regardless of ethnicity or race, are entitled to an equal education. Because of the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 1954, “equity” and “excellence” are not mutually exclusive terms used to describe an ideal education. They are also expectations that we have for all children when it comes to their opportunities to learn and to achieve. The legacy of Brown v. Board of Education cannot be disputed: the opportunities available today to our community are greater than they have ever been in our history.

Today, more than four million Latinos over the age of 25 have Bachelor’s degrees or higher. In 2012, nearly three-quarters of Latinos attained high school diplomas; and in fall 2014, almost three million Latinos enrolled in college, representing a 9 percent increase over just a decade ago. Latinos hold some of the most prestigious posts in our government; examples such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor demonstrate the potential of our diverse Latino community.

While we celebrate these tremendous accomplishments, our triumphs are tempered by education challenges that remain to be addressed:

  • Less than a quarter of Latino students are proficient in reading and math in fourth and eighth grades, respectively.
  • At least one quarter of Latino youth failed to attain a high school diploma.
  • As much as 30 percent of the Latino students entering college require some form of remediation.
  • In 2011–2012, only 10 percent of U.S.-born Latinos earned Bachelor’s degrees.

On the eve of the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board, we must draw attention to these startling facts and challenge ourselves to do more to change them. Children deserve more than access to education; they also deserve for that education to be of quality.

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This was crystallized in Chief Justice Earl Warren’s majority opinion: “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.” Though change has been slow and far from equal, we have reason for hope. With the adoption of college and career-ready standards in 44 states, we are holding ourselves accountable to ensure “equity and excellence” is not just the ideal, but the reality in our schools. In adopting the Common Core State Standards, we have declared in one voice that no single group of students is better than others, and that all children have the capacity to achieve greatness.

It is as true today as it was 60 years ago, that education, as Chief Justice Warren wrote, “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.” Our children’s education should not be left to luck or happenstance. It must be a right guaranteed to them on equal terms. To do otherwise negates our responsibility to our children and undermines the legacy of Brown.

Our Students Deserve a Better Opportunity

On April 22, in a 6–2 decision (Justice Elena Kagan recused herself), the Supreme Court found that a state can prohibit considering an applicant’s race when determining admission for public colleges and universities. The decision, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, ruled on a question that was taken up by the court centered on a 2006 Michigan referendum known as Proposal 2, which added language to the state’s constitution that prohibits using race as a factor when determining admission. The decision leaves the court’s 2003 Gratz v. Bollinger case intact, which affirmed a public institution’s ability to make race-conscious decisions.

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The larger implication of this decision is that states with growing or prominent Latino populations can pass amendments similar to Michigan’s, which could prevent a public institution from making race-conscious decisions. This means that the benefits of experiencing diversity that come with interacting with people who are different from you, which were so eloquently outlined in the military and Fortune 500 amicus briefs, and were mentioned in Grutter v. Bollinger, may be lost for allstudents. In addition, according to Lyle Denniston from SCOTUSblog, while this ruling was “focused on the use of race in selecting new students for public colleges, it presumably also would permit voters to end race-conscious policies in [the] hiring of state and local employees and in awarding public contracts.”

NCLR is concerned with the ramifications of this decision and will be monitoring the situation carefully in the coming months. Latino students deserve a better opportunity to succeed in this country and this decision doesn’t bring us any closer to equality.

Justice Sotomayor made the unusual move of reading her dissenting opinion from the bench. In it, she chided the majority for wanting to “wish away” this country’s problems with race rather than tackle them. We agree with Justice Sotomayor and thank her for standing up for the minority communities that will be affected by the court’s misguided opinion.

You can also say “thanks” to Justice Sotomayor. Just fill out the form below and we’ll send her your message of support.