Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits private businesses from discriminating on the basis of race, but many corporations view diversity as a compelling interest for a more cohesive work environment. The Supreme Court decision in the University’s lawsuits could have a significant, albeit indirect, impact on these companies, thus sparking much debate and support from multi-national corporations such a Microsoft, IBM and General Motors.
While Michigan State University Law Prof. Frank Ravitch explains that only state actors would be affected and private businesses would have no direct impact, companies say they believe the Court’s decisions could affect their hiring practices.
“If these programs are found unconstitutional, it’s possible minority enrollment will go down,” Ravitch said. “If there are fewer minority students (at the University), that also declines the pool businesses try to recruit from.”
Similarly, University administrators claim a Court decision to annul the University’s admissions policies would drastically decrease minority enrollment, and that all students need a diverse academic environment.
A joint amicus brief filed in support of the University’s policies by over 60 corporations echoes these claims, stating that in the companies’ experience “the need for diversity in higher education is indeed compelling.”
But many opponents of the University’s admissions policies have challenged the claim that minority enrollment will decrease as much as the University says it will. In coming out against the University, President Bush advocated percentage plans as a race-neutral way to keep minority enrollment from dropping.
Although the corporate briefs may impact how some might view the case, they will not directly affect the justices’ decision in the University cases, Ravitch said.
Yet during oral arguments on April 1, the justices asked several questions about a brief filed by military leaders that argued minorities in leadership positions serve as role models. If the justices factor this brief into their decision, it is possible they will also be swayed by the corporate briefs, Duke Law Prof. Trina Jones said.
Even if the court accepts the University’s argument that a diverse academic environment is a compelling reason to use race in admissions, corporations may not be able to use the same rationale to justify race-conscious hiring policies, Jones said. “It’s not necessarily clear that the marketplace idea is necessary to what businesses do, which is number one (to) make profits,” she said.
Even though state-owned companies are themselves a minority, Jones said the standards set for the University in the upcoming ruling will apply to them. “If a public employer is choosing to deliberately consider race, they have to pass strict scrutiny,” Jones said.