February 24, 2004
The JCPA has supported government and private sector affirmative action for many years, as long as race is one of many factors considered, only individuals judged to be qualified are accepted or rewarded, and quotas are not utilized. As recently as 2000, JCPA concluded a lengthy study on race and ethnicity and reaffirmed this position. Recent developments have changed the affirmative action landscape and warrant JCPA’s attention.
In June 2003, the Supreme Court decided two cases involving the University of Michigan (U-M) and its affirmative action policies. The first, Gratz v. Bollinger, involved two students who had applied for, and been denied admission to, U-M’s undergraduate program. The second case, Grutter v. Bollinger, centered on a student who was denied admission to U-M’s law school. The Court upheld the law school admissions program, saying that the state has a “compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” However, the Court struck down U-M’s undergraduate affirmative action program, saying that the university’s point system, “is not narrowly tailored to achieve the interest in educational diversity that respondents claim justifies their program.”
The result of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Gratz and Grutter is that the Court validated the use of race as one factor among others in university admissions in principle, although it struck down the specific methodology of U-M’s undergraduate admissions program. However, this does not mean that the battle for affirmative action is over. Indeed, Gratz and Grutter only refer specifically to higher education, and while the Court ruled that affirmative action programs in education are not per se unconstitutional, they are not mandated.
In the few months since Gratz and Grutter, plans are already underway in Michigan to initiate a referendum to ban affirmative action programs. Any effort similar to California’s Propositions 209 or 54, and Oregon’s Proposition 200, would undermine the effectiveness of affirmative action in education, employment, contracts and other areas, and demonstrate the need for vigilance to support affirmative action programs that are consistent with JCPA policy.
The JCPA believes:
- Affirmative action is an important safeguard of racial equality, and should be supported as long as race is one of many factors, quotas are not utilized, and only individuals judged to be qualified are accepted or rewarded and programs are narrowly tailored to achieve diversity.
- There is continued need for numerical data and statistical procedures to measure and help assure the effectiveness of affirmative action programs, so long as those data are not used to establish numerical quotas.
- The Supreme Court was correct in stating that “the state has a compelling interest” in ensuring diverse students bodies, using race as one factor among others in university admissions.
The community relations field should:
- Oppose legislative initiatives or popular referenda that seek to ban affirmative action programs that are consistent with the position previously established by JCPA.
- Work with broad and diverse coalitions to increase grassroots support for affirmative action programs that are consistent with the position previously established by JCPA and oppose affirmative action bans that target such programs.
- Continue to educate the Jewish community about affirmative action and its importance from both civil rights and Jewish values perspectives.
- Reassure our partners in other ethnic communities – especially the African American community and other constituencies that support affirmative action – that we favor affirmative action programs, as outlined in JCPA policy.
 Gratz v Bollinger, ___ US ___; 123 SCt 2411; 156 L Ed 2d 257 (2003).
 Grutter v Bollinger, ___ US ___; 123 SCt 2325; 156 L Ed 2d 304 (2003).
 Grutter, supra
 Gratz, supra