In the weeks before the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of Obamacare, the country trembled with anticipation. No such eagerness is evident now -- yet the court is again poised to rattle our world. The case of Fisher v. Texas could upend the system of racial preferences in use throughout American higher education.
The pursuit of racial justice in education has arguably led to some benefits since its inception in the 1960s. But in the two generations that have elapsed since affirmative action began, evidence of its unintended consequences has accumulated -- even as a society-wide taboo has forbidden honest discussion of that evidence.
The vast majority of elite American institutions supports racial preferences. Of 92 briefs filed in the Fisher case, 17 agreed with the plaintiff that racial preferences should be considered unconstitutional, while 73 urged that the current system remain undisturbed (two were in between). The pro-university briefs included submissions by the U.S. government, 17 U.S. senators, 66 members of Congress, 57 of the Fortune 100 companies, numerous education associations, colleges and universities and establishment organs, such as the American Bar Association.
Criticizing affirmative action (which is code for racial preferences) can be a career-endangering step for anyone, particularly for academics or politicians.
Some scholars have nevertheless been willing to follow where the evidence leads and have found that nearly everything we believe about racial preferences is wrong. In their outstanding book "Mismatch," Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. document the paradoxical results of giving large preferences to racial and other minorities.
Sander and Taylor argue persuasively that the trouble with preferences is not the injustice done to people like Abigail Fisher, who was denied admission to the University of Texas while less qualified black and Hispanic applicants were accepted -- though that is unfair -- but also the harm it does to those to whom such preferences are extended.