Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling that Michigan voters had the right to ban racial preferences in university admissions didn’t sit well with the court’s self-described “Wise Latina,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Her 58-page-long dissent made clear that she’ll be the last line of defense for affirmative-action policies at the highest court in the land.
But a look at the dissent — parts of which Sotomayor dramatically read aloud from the bench — as well as her own history, makes clear that the lady doth protest too much. Immigrants and their children simply have no claim on affirmative action — if anyone does. To the contrary, these policies hurt their intended beneficiaries.
The court didn’t rule on the merits of affirmative action, but simply on whether voters can opt to ban its use in public universities. Sotomayor tried to do several things as she fought a rear-guard battle.
She sought, for one, to equate affirmative action with voting rights, which didn’t fly. More interestingly, she also vainly tried to read this policy into the Constitution, the better to save it from future challenges.
The Constitution, she wrote, “guarantees that the majority may not win by stacking the political process against minority groups permanently, forcing the minority alone to surmount unique obstacles in pursuit of its goals — here, educational diversity that cannot reasonably be accomplished through race-neutral measures.”
In other words, one of the highest Hispanics in the land argues that, without preference policies, minorities can’t hope to reach a proportionate participation in universities.
Can you imagine what reading this opinion would do to a young Puerto Rican or Mexican-American girl full of hopes about her own abilities? As Linda Chavez, the highest woman in President Ronald Reagan’s cabinet, once put it, “Ultimately, entitlements based on their status as ‘victims’ rob Hispanics of real power.”
It’s heartening that by a 6-2 majority, the high court didn’t let such nonsense go unchallenged by the voters.
There are many reasons to oppose affirmative action: It imposes the soft bigotry of low expectations on whole groups of people; it delegitimizes the hard-earned diplomas of minority graduates; it flouts simple principles of fair play, and, by rewarding characteristics that have nothing to do with talent or hard work, it contributes to national decline.
Even after considering the above, some Americans are still willing to make an exception for the descendants of Africans forcefully brought here in chains in centuries past. The view is that they can make a case that they’re still suffering from the legacy of the horrible system of slavery, which is only four or five generations in the past.
Hispanics simply have no parallel claim. There’s nothing in the Hispanic experience in America that compares with the repulsive system of slavery. Some Jim Crow laws did affect some Mexican-Americans living in the Southwest, but there was nothing comparable with the African-American experience.
And the vast majority of today’s Hispanics either immigrated here or, more likely, descended from people who immigrated of their own volition. They chose to come here to better their lives.
Sure, America isn’t perfect. No place on this earth can be. But millions of immigrants for 2½ centuries have obviously decided that the advantages far outweigh what problems there are. We should honor their choice.
Even some supporters of affirmative action get the difference and view Hispanic participation as corrosive to these racial-preference programs. Ricky Gaull Silberman, vice chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, once described immigrant participation as “the ultimate nightmare of affirmative action. It is its Achilles’ heel.”
For Sotomayor, of course, affirmative action is personal. She’s said she believes she got into Princeton and Yale Law because of affirmative action, disclosing once that “my test scores were not comparable to that of my colleagues at Princeton or Yale.”
It’s what came afterward, when a big law firm came recruiting at Yale, that is more revealing. One partner in the firm asked her, “Would you have been admitted to the law school if you were not a Puerto Rican?”
Sotomayor didn’t react well, lodging a complaint with Yale. The firm had to apologize to the university, lest it lose its coveted right to recruit at the nation’s top law school.
But what on earth did Sotomayor expect? What else did she think could possibly result from racial preferences?
Thankfully, the court sided against her — making it less likely that any future “Wise Latina” will have to face doubts about her real achievements.
- Mike Gonzalez is VP of communications at The Heritage Foundation.