A Black and White Case:
How Affirmative Action Survived
Its Greatest Legal Challenge
By Greg Stohr
Bloomberg Press, 2004
352 pp., $26.95 hardcover
In the late 1990s, two lawsuits by White applicants who had been rejected by the University of Michigan began working their way through the federal court system, aimed at the abolition of racial preferences in college admissions. The stakes were high, the constitutional questions profound, the politics and emotions explosive. It was soon evident that the matter was headed for the highest court in the land, but there all clarity ended.
To the plaintiffs and the feisty public-interest law firm that backed them, the suits were a long overdue assault on reverse discrimination. The Constitution, strictly construed, was colorblind. Discrimination under any guise was not only illegal, it was the wrong way to set history right in a nation that had been troubled and divided by the use and misuse of race for more than 200 years.
To the University of Michigan, and to other top institutions striving to expand opportunity and create diverse, representative student bodies, it looked as if most of what had been put in place since the 1978 Bakke v. University of California decision was about to be undone. Black and Hispanic students were in danger of being once again largely shut out of the most important avenue of advancement in America, an elite education. To some, it appeared likely that racial integration was about to suffer its worst setback since the start of the civil rights movement.
In A Black and White Case, veteran Supreme Court reporter Greg Stohr portrays the individual dramas and exposes the human passions that colored and propelled this momentous legal struggle. His fascinating account takes us deep inside America’s court system, where logic collides with emotion, and common sense must contend with the majesty and sometimes the seeming perversity of the law.
Finally, Stohr details the fallout from the Supreme Court’s controversial 2003 ruling that both upheld affirmative action and upended some of the methods that had been used to affect it. And he shows how colleges and universities are reshaping their affirmative action policies — an evolution closely watched by lower courts, employers, civil rights lawyers, legislators, regulators and the public.
A Black and White Case explains one of the most important Supreme Court decisions on the fundamental and divisive subject of race relations in America.
Greg Stohr has been the Bloomberg News Supreme Court reporter since 1998.
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