Opinion: Asian-Americans a wedge against affirmative action
Emil Guillermo questions why Asian-Americans are being used in case on racial preference in admissions.
October 10th, 2012
08:00 PM ET

Opinion: Asian-Americans a wedge against affirmative action

Editor's Note: Emil Guillermo is a journalist and author. He writes for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and at www.amok.com.

By Emil Guillermo, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Asian-Americans helped build the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s. They are being used again, this time to build the case to destroy something that has transported millions of people of color to a more equitable life in America: affirmative action.

In Fisher v. Texas, which the Supreme Court began hearing Wednesday, Abigail Fisher, the plaintiff, seems to have done remarkably well.

Not bad for a good, but not great, student who failed to qualify for admission to the University of Texas in 2008 under the state's Top Ten Percent Plan.

The plan calls for all students in the top 10% of their graduating classes, regardless of race, to be automatically admitted to state schools. After that, the school fills out its admitting class by considering remaining students on a number of factors - among them, race.

The policy was designed to keep with current law, which allows for affirmative action.

Fisher, who was in the top 12%, didn't make the cut.

Fisher's case is weak. To bolster her claim, she has enlisted the aid of Asian-Americans.

In the main brief of her case, Asian-Americans are mentioned 22 times. Her lawyers argue that the Texas system is race-based and favors blacks and Hispanics over whites and Asians.

One key standard of legality is whether there's a quota. Texas does not use one, but Fisher claims there's a de facto quota since the admissions numbers try to mirror the state's population.

Surprisingly, a handful of Asian-American groups, most notably the group 80-20, filed briefs in support of Fisher in July. It claimed to have 50,000 names from an online petition drive that showed Asian-Americans were against affirmative action.

Court documents filed in the Fisher case

But any self-respecting Asian-American math whiz knows that self-selected website petitions don’t mean a thing. This month, the National Asian-American Survey (PDF) showed that nearly three-quarters of all Asian-Americans support affirmative action.

Little wonder, then, that dozens of Asian-American legal and community groups have filed their own briefs in vigorous opposition to Fisher.

Are Asian-Americans harmed by the policy? Well, no. In fact, UT's individualized admissions process recognizes differences among the larger group of Asian-Americans and the unique experiences of Southeast Asians. This combats the idea that Asian-Americans are a monolithic "model minority."

Are Asian-Americans subjected to a quota? Once again, no. The Asian-American population at UT exceeds the percentage of Asian-Americans in the state.

Do non-admitted Asian-Americans' higher SAT test scores prove that they were discriminated against by UT? No.

If they are in the top 10% of the class based on grades, they got in. Race is not a factor, nor are SAT scores. After that, race and test scores, among other factors, can be taken into account, but the admissions stats show no shortfall of Asian-Americans admitted.

Indeed, Asian-Americans have been helped by the UT plan and would be harmed greatly if it were ended.

The Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund brief (PDF) was more tightly focused on UT's policy and the absence of "negative action," while the Asian-American Center for Advancing Justice's brief (PDF) took a broader view of affirmative action and diversity and their respective benefits to society.

It also most clearly recognized the blatant attempt by Fisher to pit Asians against blacks and Latinos.

"(We) reject any attempt to use Asian-Americans as a wedge group to curtail opportunities of racial minorities, given that all such groups share a history of discrimination and a legacy of working together to overcome those barriers to equality," the brief said.

Pitting minority groups against each other is really the most insidious aspect of Fisher's legal strategy, one that has been employed in the past but seldom at the Supreme Court level. Such a tactic only exposes the weakness of the case.

Relying on Asian-Americans to carry her water, Fisher should fail on merit.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Emil Guillermo.

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. AsianAmerican

    The Truth Is Young College and University-Bound Asian American Students Are the Victims of Race-Based Affirmative Action Admissions Policy.

    February 10, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. caramelpipe

    applauded the insight well said

    November 2, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. s1

    I, an Asian-Am, will support Fisher any way she wants. We are not admitted to the top Univs. unless we get a high GPA, and SAT scores much, much higher than Latinos/Blacks. And why should Latinos get Affirmative Action benefits ? They were not slaves or suppressed by Jim Crow. And, in Texas, Latinos are a MAJORITY. Will they want AA for Whites. No way.

    November 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Seri

    If you do the math, it is clear that it is much more difficult for Asian Americans to be admitted, relative to Caucasians with equivalent qualifications. Just look at the data following the application of Proposition 209 in California. After Prop. 209 was effective, essentially banning affirmative action, the proportion of Asian Americans soared from ~25% to ~50% of admissions, depending on the UC school. If Asians Americans were not at a disadvantage, why did their numbers double after affirmative action was lifted?

    October 16, 2012 at 2:26 am | Report abuse |
    • racism in america


      there are some horrific white doctors out there too who had bad grades and passed medical school. Is that truly how you think in regards to people of color in the work place? This is the exact reason for the rules.. because some people can't be trusted!

      October 22, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Asians

      Asians have a harder time getting into school when almost everybody of your race is in the top 10%. Asians are by fare superior to all others (except for my Jewish brothers) because they value education and hard work... concepts lost to our government dependant native whites and blacks.

      October 22, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • RL

      Seri, you're absolutely correct! Unfortunately, today racial quotas of any kind are deeplyand negatively affecting Asian Americans, especially in respect to college entrance. In an ideal world one's acceptance to college should be based purely upon merit. Unfortunately, having varying criterion based on race or color of one's skin is a slap in the face to those who took the arduous road of working incredibly hard trying to get into college. Asian Americans in particular are still deeply underrepresented based on their qualifications for entrance. "Sorry, you have worked too hard and are too successful for college, instead we should let in someone vastly less qualified but with a different color skin instead."

      If we are going to have a quota to provide some diversity, isn't it better and fairer to include socioeconomically underprivileged achievers instead which might include blacks, brown, whites and yes, even Asian Americans as well. Perhaps we should fund scholarships for high performing but poor students of any color, but they would still have to satisfy the normal university entrance requirements, otherwise the stigma of their getting in through a quota alone will follow them for their entire lives. We could even fund programs for economically underpriviliged kids of any color to prepare for college entrance exams etc. to help level the playing field. Perhaps use a lottery system after we have identified their economic eligibility so that everyone in that group has some chance.

      Racial quotas would let in a black or Hispanic kid from a wealthy household fairly easily just because they are of a particular race. How about helping out a bright but poor black or Hispanic kid instead? Using economic criterion instead of racial ones to help give them a leg up. Isn't that what would be most beneficial and fair for our country?

      October 23, 2012 at 3:48 am | Report abuse |
  5. Hema David

    The only reason that Abigail Fisher thinks she has a fighting chance with her weak case is because she's a jew! Bottom line. And she knows (probably from other jewish influences) that b/c the courts are packed with jews, she has a chance. And truthfully speaking she does, b/c regardless of how ridiculous a case or if a non-jew had enough proof. These jew judges will somehow be for it or against it based on your how much of a zionist you are!

    October 13, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Siculari

    Asians are minority, but why their SAT score minimum in universities is set higher than other race? If you check "Asian" on your enrollment paper your minimum SAT is 1550. If Hispanic it's 1150, if black it's 1100. What is this? This is not fair.

    October 13, 2012 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
  7. the truth

    racism is racism. Liberals can call it whatever they want or rationalize however they want but racism is racism

    October 11, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Denver_mike

      And afermitive action its racism.

      October 11, 2012 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
      • caramelpipe

        affirmative action was an attempt to give minorities opportunities where they were not receiving any even though qualified , intelligent and hard working but just because of color of skin or nationality, ethnicity or gender. If giving opportunity to those who excel is a problem i think you have more than the obvious problem

        November 2, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joineordie

      It's not as simple as you are making it seem. Again, racist policies from the past tshape the future today. Whites do better because they always had the power in this country. Asians were not slaves and haven't been here for over 400 years. That's the difference. Most blacks are in the South-not the hotbed of education.

      Getting rid of AA will simply slap a big bottle of white-out over the higher education industry and eventually jobs.

      Seriously, how many blacks do you see as doctors? CEOs? Lawyers?

      October 12, 2012 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Mcr

      I'm afraid you don't understand the reasons for affirmative action, which are sociological rather than rights based. Think really hard about what it it has historically meant around the word when minority group dominated the economy, or academia? What happened? Do you get it now? If you don't, you haven't been reading your history. This isn't some fluffy idealism; this is the real world in which we make compromises to live together.

      October 18, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
      • caramelpipe

        Maybe sociology had some thing to do with it but don't try to belittle that fact of opportunity lost due to right being trampled on .@ joe if you are accepted it is not under qualified students that is a fallacy it is mostly those as qualified but not given opportunity due to other factors of privileged. From one who who sees the transcripts and the grade, test data

        November 2, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |