Progressives claim affirmative action is justified based on past discrimination against black people by whites. But the affirmative-action policies they promote discriminate also in favor of Hispanics and against Asians (Hispanics usually receive a smaller preference in admission than blacks; Asians sometimes are discriminated against even more than whites, such as at Harvard or in elite colleges’ math, science, medical, and engineering departments, where it is even harder for an Asian to get admitted than a white person with the same grades and test scores, while it is much easier for a black person to get admitted than a non-black person with the same grades and test scores).
This makes little sense. In the Boston Globe, law professor Ilya Somin argues that this mismatch is one reason to strike down affirmative action in college admissions, in the lawsuits challenging racial preferences in college admissions at Harvard and UNC Chapel Hill:
The Supreme Court recently decided to hear two cases challenging the use of racial preferences in higher education: Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College and a similar case against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. These cases focus on two important issues: the badly flawed “diversity” rationale for racial preferences, and Harvard’s apparent policy of targeting Asian American applicants for discrimination. The Supreme Court would do well to rule against the diversity theory and make clear that anti-Asian discrimination is no different from that against other groups.
Affirmative action in college admissions began as an effort to compensate historically discriminated-against minority groups — especially Black people — for the many years of oppression they suffered. But the Supreme Court has largely rejected the compensatory justice rationale for such policies and instead endorsed the theory that racial discrimination in admissions is sometimes permissible to achieve educationally valuable “diversity….“
The racial categories used by Harvard, UNC, and many other universities are remarkably crude. The “Hispanic” or “Latino” category lumps together such varied groups as Argentinians, Cubans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans. “Asian” encompasses more than half the world’s population, including Chinese, Indians, and Japanese. Arabs, native-born white Protestants, and Swedish immigrants are all classified as “white….” Such sweeping and arbitrary classifications amount to little more than crude racial stereotyping of a kind courts would reject in almost any other context. They certainly don’t reflect any carefully nuanced assessment of different groups’ distinct characteristics or potential contributions to educationally useful diversity.
If applied consistently, the diversity theory could justify a vast range of racial and ethnic discrimination…. This kind of near-blank check for racial discrimination is dubious under any plausible theory of constitutional interpretation, whether originalist or living-constitutionalist….
Perhaps the court should reconsider the compensatory justice rationale for racial preferences, which is far more compelling. But it is not clear how discrimination against one set of members of a racial group can be remedied by discrimination in favor of an entirely different set of people years later, whose only connection to the victims is that they are members of the same race….
If compensatory justice is the true purpose, schools should at least make extensive efforts to ensure that the beneficiaries of racial preferences really have been victimized by discrimination themselves, as opposed merely being members of the same demographic group as others who have.
Later in his op-ed, Somin discusses how today’s anti-Asian discrimination in college admissions echoes the early twentieth-century policies in which Harvard and other prestigious colleges aimed to reduce the number of Jewish students. These colleges used “holistic” admissions that deemphasized objective standards and emphasized vague extracurricular attributes to shrink the percentage of students who were Jewish. Somin also wrote about how colleges discriminate against Asians in a 2021 article in The Hill.