Sander and Taylor are right that the current Supreme Court jurisprudence on affirmative action is a mess. The Court ruled in 2003 that explicit racial quotas are unconstitutional at public universities, but race may still be considered in admissions as part of a more “holistic” consideration of a variety of factors. What is the difference, ethically or practically, between a 10 percent quota and a “holistic” process that can be counted on to produce the same result as a 10 percent quota? Sander and Taylor show how, when California banned any use of race in admissions, the University of California managed to achieve almost the same result through creative use of holistic-type factors.
Yet Sander and Taylor very much favor affirmative action using social and economic status rather than race. This would end the absurdity of students from prosperous black families getting preference over those from poor and working-class white families. It would also be a social engineering nightmare. Who is “working class”? Does the number of siblings count? Is urban poverty worse than rural, or vice-versa? Every attempt to make a distinction would be lobbied and litigated. In the end, it would probably hurt the very people it is intended to help.
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