This is where the Orwellian savoir-faire tends to kick in. The school's lawyers, along with columnists such as The Washington Post's David Broder and countless others, insisted that increasing diversity never comes at the expense of quality.
Well, if the trade-off didn't exist, we wouldn't be having this debate. If there were a surplus of high SAT-scoring, straight-A blacks and Hispanics, no one would sue because they lost their slot to a less-qualified minority. The entire affirmative action controversy is predicated on the unavoidable fact that there is a greater demand for well-qualified blacks than there is a supply. Period.
However, even if that weren't the case, this quest to make all of our major institutions "look like America" is still basically arbitrary and unfair. It's simply absurd to think that the distribution of Chinese, black, white, Hispanic, Indian, Jewish, Hmong and so forth in the society can or should be replicated at a given university. Indian-Americans, for example, are hugely over-represented in the ranks of hotel and motel owners in the United States. Harvard President Larry Summers got in a lot of hot water for thinking out loud about why women were underrepresented at the highest reaches of science. But his observations that Catholics are underrepresented in investment banking, and that Jews are underrepresented in farming, went largely unnoticed.
So what? None of these things suggests that these fields are hothouses of bigotry. Instead, it demonstrates that there are all sorts of reasons, some good, some bad, for the distributions of ethnicities in this country.
Fisher's story about Asian students in the Washington suburbs illustrates the point. These kids - mostly Chinese and Vietnamese - are under intense pressure from their parents and peers to excel. This comes with all sorts of drawbacks. Some of the pressure isn't positive; kids who don't follow the Asian stereotype are called "twinkees" - yellow on the outside, white on the inside. But the benefits are tangible, or at least they're supposed to be.
If, as a group, the kids of Asian immigrants work harder and do better academically than blacks or whites or Jews, is it fair for Harvard to say at some point, "Sorry, we're full up on Asians," simply because it had reached a quota based on the Asian share of the U.S. population? Some cultures are going to emphasize the importance of becoming a doctor more than others. There's no principled reason why advocates of quota games for law schools shouldn't support the same thing for basketball.
But all of this talk about groups obscures the most basic point. Racial and ethnic groups are supposed to be invisible to the government. Any other system is merely guilt - or credit - by association.
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