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What the Supreme Court is saying about Asian Americans

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By Randall Yip, AsAmNews Executive Editor

The arguments for and against the use of race in college admissions just decided by the U.S. Supreme Court provide a glimpse at the role Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders played in the decision.

Read the opinions of the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court in Students for Fair Admissions v Harvard and the University of North Carolina and you’ll find 104 references to Asian Americans.

Pacific Islanders received four mentions while Native Hawaiians were mentioned three times.

“For starters, the categories are themselves imprecise in many ways,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in his majority opinion. “Some of them are plainly overbroad: by grouping together all Asian students, for instance, respondents are apparently uninterested in whether South Asian or East Asian students are adequately represented, so long as there is enough of one to compensate for a lack of the other.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch picked up on that point in his concurring opinion.

“Take the “Asian” category. It sweeps into one pile East Asians (e.g., Chinese, Korean, Japanese) and South Asians (e.g., Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi)… Consider, as well, the development of a separate category for Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders. And even that category contains its curiosities. It appears, for example, that Filipino Americans remain classified as “Asian” rather than “Other Pacific Islander.””

However, in her dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that she found the line of thinking insulting.

“That argument offends the history of that term. The term ‘Asian American’ was coined in the late 1960s by Asian American activists—mostly college students—to unify Asian ethnic groups that shared common experiences of race-based violence and discrimination and to advocate for civil rights and visibility,” Sotomayor wrote.

She also argued that the lawsuit filed by Students for Fair Admission ignored entrance requirements that she said statistically gave an advantage to White students.

“SFFA does not challenge the admission of this large group,” she wrote.

“Harvard’s holistic system, for example, provides points to applicants who qualify as “ALDC,” meaning “athletes, legacy applicants, applicants on the Dean’s Interest List [primarily relatives of donors], and children of faculty or staff.” ALDC appli-
cants are predominantly White: Around 67.8% are White, 11.4% are Asian American, 6% are Black, and 5.6% are Latino.”

Her counter-argument may be the next chapter in the controversy of college admissions. A lawsuit filed just this month challenges what it calls Harvard’s preferential treatment of wealthy donors and alumni.

She says only 40% of the non-ALDC applicants are White, 28% are Asian Americans, 11% are Black and nearly 13% are Latino. In addition, she points out ALDC applicants make up only 5% of the applicant pool, but 30% of those admitted.

Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion “those policies sort at least some Blacks and Hispanics into environments where they are less likely
to succeed academically relative to their peers. Ibid. The resulting mismatch places many blacks and Hispanics who likely would have excelled at less elite schools . . . in a position where underperformance is all but inevitable because they are less academically prepared than the White and Asian students with whom they must compete.”

“Thomas speaks only for himself,” argued Sotomayor for the minority. “The Court previously declined to adopt this so-called “mismatch” hypothesis for good reason: It was debunked long ago. The decades-old
“studies” advanced by the handful of authors upon whom Justice Thomas relies, have “major methodological flaws,” are based on unreliable data, and do not “meet the basic tenets of rigorous social science research.”

Justice Ketanji Jackson said in his dissenting opinion that “Asian American applicants are accepted at the same rate as other applicants and now make up more than 20% of Harvard’s admitted classes,” even though “only about 6% of the United States population is Asian American.”

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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