Right-wing media figures are shocked by the Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas II, which reaffirmed that the consideration of race as a factor in college admissions is constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. Conservative media have been questioning the validity of affirmative action policies for years, appearing equally baffled by the Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 on the same matter. This time around, the confusion was again amplified as right-wing media attempted to cast race-conscious college admissions as “racist,” misrepresent the strict legal scrutiny already in place for these types of policies, and dismiss the numerous educational and economic benefits of diverse colleges.
Research On Educational Benefits Of Diversity Is “Overwhelming” And “Compelling”
On his radio show immediately following the release of the new Fisher decision, host Rush Limbaugh read from the synopsis of the majority opinion authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, in particular focusing on a line stating that schools have a “compelling interest” to seek the benefits of a diverse student body through means other than impermissible racial quotas. Limbaugh was so baffled by the “stunning,” “unbelievable,” and “absurd” reasoning, he had to read the line several times and was left speechless, before exclaiming, “This is so bad, I don’t know how to describe it.” Limbaugh then labeled the numerous and proven educational benefits of student body diversity a “liberal concept, perverted and corrupt as it is,” and an “absolutely vacuous argument that the left has been advancing for years.”
Perhaps if Limbaugh had read more of the opinion, he would better understand how the Supreme Court could deem “the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity” a “compelling interest.” In fact, the American Educational Research Association and “nine other scientific societies” filed an amicus brief in the Fisher case, “urging the court to consider an overwhelming body of evidence” showing “that student body diversity promotes cross-racial understanding, educational and classroom benefits, and professional development,” and “prevents the harms of racial isolation.” A wide range of businesses, public institutions, and educational leadership once again filed amicus briefs in the case, arguing for the value of race-conscious admissions policies. Coalitions of Fortune 100 CEOs and other major business leaders, former senior military officials, several top professional associations for college professors and admissions staff, and the federal government all filed briefs in support of policies like the University of Texas’ admissions approach.
Race-Conscious Admissions Do Not “Mismatch” Black And Hispanic Students With Schools
During the Fisher oral arguments in December, the late Justice Antonin Scalia made headlines for referencing the discredited “mismatch theory” that affirmative action policies place underprepared students of color in schools that are too challenging for them. The flawed assumptions that underscore this theory have likewise pervaded right-wing media’s reactions to the Supreme Court’s decision.
Several conservative media figures have expressed their confusion and concern that black and Latino students might somehow be disserved by race-conscious admissions policies in social or emotional ways, in addition to struggling with academic “mismatch.” Commentator Heather Mac Donald, for example, denounced the decision, asserting that “race-based admissions preferences” allow students to “come into environments for which they’re not prepared,” leading to academic failure, “the sort of insanity that this country went through last year with the Black Lives Matter protests on campuses,” and a “growing victimology on campuses.”
But here are the facts: Numerous studies have shown students of color do better in more selective schools, and experts have discredited what little research backs “mismatch theory.” In fact, a brief filed with the Supreme Court in the Fisher case by experts in methodology and statistics urged the court to disregard the most highly cited study supporting the debunked theory, writing that the study “fails to satisfy the basic standards of good empirical social science research.”
The Court Has Consistently Applied Strict Legal Scrutiny To Federal Affirmative Action Programs
The facts haven’t stopped conservative media from once again incorrectly characterizing the ongoing legality of narrowly tailored affirmative action programs as a major shift in legal precedent amounting to reverse racism. This time around, right-wing media figures lamented the Fisher decision as propping up “another kind of discrimination” that might be “equally wrong,” “reverse discrimination” or “racist,” and incorrectly suggested that the decision is related to setting impermissible racial quotas for admissions. Rush Limbaugh, in particular, appeared deeply confused, first insisting that the decision relates to racial quotas specifically. Then, after reading a portion of the majority opinion that highlighted the holistic review process at the University of Texas several times, Limbaugh concluded that affirmative action, which he previously understood as a “glorified quota program,” has shifted to something “even worse.” Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro also asserted that Justice Kennedy had “flipped” in his ruling and that “our freedoms are decided” based on whether the Supreme Court justice “had his Metamucil that morning.”
But the court’s reaffirmation of the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions policy, while a surprising decision for many court experts and affirmative action advocates who feared the court had shifted irrevocably to the right, does not break new legal ground. In fact, Kennedy’s opinion specifically represents a continued belief that properly tailored affirmative action programs remain constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment -- a line of reasoning he has espoused for nearly a decade. The narrow ruling on the Texas holistic admissions approach is the latest Supreme Court opinion to reaffirm what has been a guiding principle since 1978, further detailed in 2003: that the use of race as one factor among many in individualized and holistic considerations of applicants to institutions of higher education remains both necessary and constitutional to ensure the diversity of America's future leaders.