OCA Statement Criticizes Supreme Court Decision on Affirmative Action

WASHINGTON, D.C. – OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, a national membership-driven organization of community advocates dedicated to advancing the political, social, and economic well-being of Asian Pacific Americans (APAs), is disappointed by the Supreme Court of the United States’ (SCOTUS) decision to uphold the state of Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in the Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action case.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette speaks to reporters after arguing the case before the U.S. Supreme Court in October. He’s with XIV Foundation CEO Jennifer Gratz, who was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy (photo from npr.org).

On Tuesday, April 22, 2014, SCOTUS upheld the state of Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in a 6-2 decision on the grounds that voters have the authority to block state programs that protect minorities. Justice Sotomayor and Justice Ginsberg dissented with the majority opinion, and Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case.

APAs have benefited from affirmative action policies in higher education. Despite the academic success of a few Asian American groups, a large number of APAs have not seen similar levels of academic success. 2010 Census data show that a number of Southeast Asian and Pacific Islanders, such as the Khmer, Lao, Fijian, and Samoan are underrepresented in public higher education institutions. Their admission rates are on par with or below African American and Latino Americans.

“Many communities need affirmative action, in addition to broader policies that address the root causes of the gaps in public admissions, employment, and contracting,” says Sharon M. Wong, OCA President. “States must continue protect the interests of minority populations. It is in our economic interests for the government to invest in our communities and protect core civil rights policies that promote the full inclusion of all Americans.”

Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action stems from a 2006 ballot initiative in Michigan that banned affirmative action in public higher education admissions, employment, and contracting. 58 percent of Michigan voters approved the ban, and 42 percent voted against it. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and the state of Michigan argued that ending racial preferences could not be considered a discriminatory act. The opposition argued that the ban was discriminatory and places an unfair burden on minorities. Although the ruling focused on affirmative action in higher education, there is a growing concern of broader ramifications in public employment and contracting.

“The Supreme Court has an obligation to the American people to uphold the Constitution and prevent discrimination. Laws and policies that protect and promote minority groups, such as affirmative action, are necessary to combat and fix our country’s history of exclusion and marginalization” says Ken Lee, OCA Acting CEO. “The court’s decision places this burden on the shoulders of the American public, when it is the responsibility of the state to correct our country’s past mistakes and to ensure that minority groups are supported through government policies to reach their fullest potentials, despite a history of oppression. We cannot constitutionalize discrimination, nor turn our democratic process into a tool to promote further socio, economic, and political marginalization.”