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The Equal Protection Clause Forbids Racial Preferences in State University Admissions

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  • Is Affirmative Action Discrimination?

    Clip: Debaters analyze how race and test scores factor into college acceptance rates.

  • The Case for Class-Based Affirmative Action

    Clip: Would socioeconomic or class-based affirmative action lead to more racial diversity on campus?

  • What "Equal Protection" Really Means

    Clip: Debaters each examine the word "equal" and what it means in the context of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

  • 2-Minute Debate: Does Affirmative Action on Campus Violate the Constitution?

    Does Affirmative Action on Campus Violate the Constitution? This debate short is part of a series co-produced by Intelligence Squared U.S. and Newsy.

Debate Details

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that: "No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Yet many state universities give substantial preferences to certain races in their admissions decisions. In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), the Supreme Court approved such preferences, but the case was close, and controversial, and the question will be back before the Supreme Court this term. One side may argue that these preferences level the playing field, remedy prior discrimination, and enhance diversity within the classroom, thus redeeming the true promise of equal protection. But the other may say that these preferences – in favor of some races, at the expense of others – are racial discrimination pure and simple, the precise evil that the Equal Protection Clause was intended to forbid.

The Debaters

For the motion

Roger Clegg

President & General Counsel, Center for Equal Opportunity

Roger Clegg is president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity. He focuses on legal issues arising from civil rights laws – including... Read More

Stuart Taylor Jr.

Nonresident Fellow, Brookings & Co-Author, Mismatch

Stuart Taylor, Jr. is an author, freelance writer, lawyer, and nonresident fellow with the Brookings Institution. Often called one of the nation's... Read More

Against the motion

Deborah Archer

Director, Racial Justice Project & Professor, New York Law School

Deborah N. Archer, an expert in the areas of civil rights and racial discrimination, is a professor of law at New York Law School, where she also... Read More

Erwin Chemerinsky

Dean, University of California, Irvine School of Law

Erwin Chemerinsky is the founding dean, distinguished professor of law, and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law at the University of California... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • Affirmative action in admissions violates the Equal Protection Clause by discriminating against some students based on their race.
  • Racial and economic diversity on campus can be accomplished through means other than affirmative action.
  • Affirmative action hurts its intended beneficiaries by creating an academic mismatch between some students and universities.
Against The Motion
  • Affirmative action safeguards equal protection in university admissions by countering disparities of access and a legacy of past discrimination.
  • To say that laws designed to subjugate a race and laws designed to distribute benefits to a race are equivalent assumes that our society is post-racial, which it is clearly not.
  • Everyone's educational experience is enhanced when there is diversity in classrooms.

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The Research

The Research

Affirmative Action Fast Facts

CNN Library
May 9, 2015

Background information about affirmative action as well as a few notable court cases.

Yes, Justice Thomas, Affirmative Action Is Constitutional

Scott Lemieux
June 25, 2013

Like Justice Ginsburg, I do not believe that affirmative action programs should be subject to the same constitutional scrutiny as laws that unjustly discriminate against a disadvantaged class, and with this assumption, Texas's modest program easily passes constitutional muster.

It is Time to End Race-Based “Affirmative Action”

Ward Connerly
June 3, 2007

To oppose equal treatment is to support preferential treatment for some and discrimination for others.

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