Though the Supreme Court ruled on the University’s admissions policies over a year ago, the affirmative action lawsuit filed by the Center for Individual Rights continues to wind its way through the courts. The Washington-based conservative legal group has filed a motion against the University in federal court requesting that all applicants to the College of Literature, Science and the Arts who were denied admission between 1995 and 2003 and were not Native American, black, or Hispanic be refunded the $40 application fee and awarded punitive damages. It appears that CIR is seeking a symbolic gesture that can only serve to deepen racial divisions. It is critical for the University to stand strong in defense of its admissions policies and for the court to reject this suit.
In the past, LSA’s admission process used a point system that awarded points to a candidate, among other things, for being an under-represented minority. The motion filed by CIR argues that, since the U.S. Supreme Court found this admissions system to be unconstitutional, the University discriminated against all rejected applicants who were not a member of an under-represented minority group. These students, who CIR argues deserve damages, were in many cases forced to attend more expensive out-of-state or private colleges, according to CIR.
In its defense, the University contends that the case should be thrown out because to prove discrimination, the plaintiffs would have to show they would have been admitted under a constitutional system. Admission to the University is selective and thousands of applicants are rejected by the University each year for reasons ranging from poor transcripts to unimpressive essays — factors having nothing to do with race. It is illogical to argue, as CIR does, that every single one of these rejected students would have been admitted if not for the point system.
Furthermore, the University is right to argue that the rejected students should be held to the standard of the current admissions system. Even if CIR conceded that not all rejected students were denied admission solely because of race, it would be inappropriate to disregard the points that under-represented minorities received in the past and re-compute admissions under a hypothetical, race-neutral point system to determine who deserved damages. Such a move would not reflect the University’s admissions policies at any time and would ignore the Supreme Court’s opinion – that admissions policies considering race, when properly constructed, are legal.
All the rhetoric about rejected students being forced to attend expensive private colleges aside, the $1 of punitive damages being sought proves CIR is instead abusing the notion of a class-action lawsuit to make a political point. Should CIR succeed in this effort, a dangerous precedent could be set, opening up the floodgates for a slue of similar lawsuits. For this reason, even conservative judges need to recognize that a ruling of this manner would only lead to more class action law suits with even less purpose. Regardless of their stances on affirmative action, those on the left and right should be able to agree that the last thing our society needs is more frivolous lawsuits like this one.