The Supreme Court Gutted Affirmative Action
It seemed like yesterday when news broke that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee. An enormous sense of dread settled in the pit of my stomach that evening as the reality that the King of dreams was dead. It felt like every step, every stride, made by Black people in America since Robert E. Lee surrendered his troops in the courthouse at Appomattox a hundred and three years before that evening swept away with the sniper’s bullet into the jaw of Dr. King.
Five years later, President Richard Nixon signed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law required federal agencies to create an affirmative action for hiring, placement, and advancement of people with disabilities. Three years after Nixon’s bold move, Allan Bakke sued the University of California-Davis after he had been rejected twice for admission to medical school. Bakke argued that Black students admittedly did not have better grades than he had and argued that the sixteen seats the school set aside for Black students amounted to reverse discrimination.
The Bakke decision came about this time of year June 28, 1978. A local newspaper called me to get my reaction to the Bakke case, which essentially ruled that the University of California-Davis employed an unlawful quota system in its admissions process.
“It feels like the sense of dread I felt the night Dr. King died,” I told the reporter, then added, “Bakke sends us back to the days when Blacks had no rights to participate in American life. How can we achieve equality without stepping to level the playing field?”
Dread had returned.
On the heels of Bakke, President Ronald Regan nominated Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. Bork, a conservative originalist, was a sure sign by Regan that the country wanted to turn back the clock to days before Emancipation when the White American ethos believed America was great.
Bork’s nomination received aggressive condemnation from Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, President of the Southern Leadership Conference. Lowery urged the United States Senate…