In what should be considered standing logic on its end, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that while public colleges have an interest in having a racially diverse student body, nonetheless, the racial majority of a state can vote to remove racial diversity as a goal. This is a radical and activist reinterpretation of the Constitution, since by strict construction, the 14th Amendment had been added to explicitly limit white majority action to deny full legal protection to the newly freed slaves and their descendants. The purpose was to limit majority rule from becoming mob rule, continuing a legacy of inequality.
Most disturbing, this ruling comes as our nation’s need for success in having a diverse skilled workforce is increasing. The majority of babies born this year are children of color. A part of the reason our nation’s middle class is seeing other countries incomes catch up to them is because the education advantage of Americans is shrinking. To keep pace, America must find ways to educate all its children.
Earlier this month, high school seniors received letters accepting or rejecting them from their dream schools. The selective institutions now receive thousands of applications for each available slot. The University of Michigan (the school at the heart of the Supreme Court case) received nearly 40,000 applicants and accepted about 16,000. Last year, the difference between the average SAT section score of the 2014 freshman class and those who were rejected was 672 compared to 642. Clearly, many of those rejected differed little from those accepted; there are more qualified applicants than slots. So, the challenge for schools like Michigan is in putting together a class among virtually equal applicants.
Given its history as the winningest program in college football history, we can be assured that playing football will continue to be a consideration. Rejecting too many football players would interrupt a pipeline of talent that would be hard to re-establish. So, it is among all students. When numbers dwindle, the relevance of the school in that community declines. With a rising share of Black and Latino students nationally, Michigan needs a lifeline to recruiting in those communities. But this ruling lets football talent remain a criteria for admission to Michigan, while dismissing the national need for a deep bench of engineering talent.
But, beyond the state of Michigan, the court’s ruling would let voters in Mississippi and Alabama return to segregated universities. Absent the countervailing weight of court action, southern public K-12 education has already gone from the most integrated in America to return to its segregated past at an alarming rate. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in her dissenting argument, laid out the difference between turning a blind eye to racial inequality and pretending that disparate outcomes are race neutral.
The Supreme Court has ruled earlier that Congress cannot limit the ability of the wealthy to donate to campaigns. So the majority can vote to limit minority representation when it comes to college and pathways to the middle class, but the majority through their representatives cannot infringe on the rights of the 1% minority to control the political process? This apparent schizophrenia, however, is totally consistent with the sick form of American plutocracy.
Plutocracy in America is rooted in the American South, where the wealth of the few was protected by state governments and racism was used to control the masses. The Supreme Court appears to protect majority rule, but only when it would cement a sense of white privilege—giving the masses a sense that the political establishment is responding to their will. But it must protect the 1% from that same majority or else, democracy would be mob rule.
While the U.S. economy has grown as well as other nations, America’s unequal growth pattern means the middle class of America is not keeping pace with the rest of the world. For instance, since 2000, median incomes have gone up by 19.7% in Great Britain and Canada, but only 0.3% in America. The reason is straightforward: In other countries the effect of democracy are governments where the rich pay higher taxes and people who are poor get much more help. The intent of plutocracy is to prevent that.
Dr. William Spriggs is the chief economist for the AFL-CIO. Follow Dr. Spriggs on Twitter @WSpriggs.