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Affirmative action: Good or harmful?
The Supreme Court has taken up a case on whether consideration of race is constitutional in university admissions.
October 10th, 2012
03:42 PM ET

Affirmative action: Good or harmful?

By Moni Basu, CNN

(CNN) - Abigail Fisher argues that the University of Texas unconstitutionally considered race in admitting students, resulting in her exclusion. She sued the university, and on Wednesday, the highest court in the land began hearing the case,  reigniting contentious debate on whether a policy of preferences does good or harm.

Should America consider new limits on racial preferences? Or ban them altogether?

Should we be chanting "Long live affirmative action"? Or cheering its death?

A few years ago, in a Supreme Court ruling on school desegregation, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

Simple enough to say, but, of course, a far more difficult notion to implement.

In any case, people from opposing corners came out slugging as the Supreme Court weighed the Texas case as Fisher, who'd been mum in the media, gave her first interview to The New York Times.

“I’m hoping that they’ll completely take race out of the issue in terms of admissions," she told the Times, "and that everyone will be able to get into any school that they want no matter what race they are but solely based on their merit and if they work hard for it.”

Gail Heriot, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, told CNN that affirmative action is backfiring badly. Race preferences, she said, are doing more harm than good and suggests such policies result in fewer African-American professionals.

In an amicus brief supporting Fisher's petition, Heriot argued that affirmative action leads to minority students entering top schools, where their credentials put them at the bottom of the class.

Joshua Thompson of the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, which also filed a legal brief in support of Fisher, said,  "Using race in admissions decisions, to achieve diversity, amounts to stereotyping people by their race."

The authors of "Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit it," said that America ought to keep affirmative action but reform it. They pointed out two reforms in particular: Limit the overall size of racial preferences and mandate a thorough transparency at any university that wants to use them.

Ebony magazine cried foul with an opinion piece called "Affirmative Action vs. White Privilege: Abigail Fisher cries discrimination over a school that says she wouldn't have gotten into regardless of her race. What will the Supreme Court say?"

Guardian columnist Gary Younge argued that "the central barrier to meritocracy is not race but class, and that if entrance to higher education in America were only based on test scores and academic ability, the biggest losers, by far, would be wealthy white kids."

The biggest winners in affirmative action, said Chris Seck in the Harvard Law Record, are not minorities but whites.

"We have an ironic situation where institutions that claim to promote 'diversity,' despite their sincere intentions, appear to limit minorities to a minority of seats,"  Seck wrote. "Conversely, this results in an apparent entrenchment of white majorities."

Others argued affirmative action is an idea whose time has come and gone.

"Affirmative action today arises in a wholly different political context: Institutionalized segregation is a thing of the past," wrote Richard Epstein for the Hoover Institution's defining Ideas journal.

Salon posted stories on the silence of Republican conservatives on the affirmative action challenge and the liberal case against race-based preferences.

Students weigh in with their opinions

Confused yet?

Here are some more opinions from Twitter:

Tell us what you think. Should affirmative action continue? Does it need reform? Or is it an idea that is past its prime? Post your comments below.

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