The Supreme Court ruled that most colleges and universities may not include an applicant’s race as a factor in deciding whether or not to enroll him or her. The ‘conservative’ majority on the court insisted that this would help increase fairness in the the consideration of college applications. The Court effectively ended “Affirmative Action,” a program that sought to reverse the discrimination faced by African-Americans in institutions of higher learning over the past four centuries.  Paradoxically they exempted military academies, including those at West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs, from this mandate. Why the selection of men and women who will defend our nation from enemies, foreign and domestic, may still involve racial considerations was left unexplained.

After nearly four centuries of barriers to the “equal” education of African-Americans, the majority of Supreme Court justices decided that the provision of lower, but still substantial, barriers to the education of black children and young adults over the past few decades was enough to level the playing field.  What the Court left untouched were the considerations of legacy, wealth, political influence, and other elements of the admissions process that keep America’s Ivy League universities heavily populated with the heirs to the ‘well off’ and sparsely populated with the offspring of those who are not doing so well.

That university admissions policies are highly discriminatory is not a secret. That they unjustly discriminate against white applicants is nonsense. If you are the under-achieving son or daughter of a parent who attended an Ivy League school and who had the good sense to contribute to the school’s endowment on a regular basis and send you to Brehm Preparatory, Phillips Academy Andover, Phillips Exeter, or other such private high schools where tuition and associated expenses are routinely in excess of $60,000 annually, you have no need to worry about competing for admission with that stellar, but poor or middle-class, African-American graduate of one of Harlem’s understaffed and underfunded public schools.

If the Ivy League school you want to attend has the audacity to put you on the waiting list, a phone call from one of their billionaire alumni should suffice to find you a spot in the freshman class. That scenario, not a race-based fulfillment of a minority group quota, is the real nature of affirmative action in America.  Even though programs to increase African-American admissions to universities across the nation have made only glacial progress over the past few decades, our Supreme Court, at the behest of their generous patrons, decided that the pendulum toward equal opportunity (dare I say, “equal protection under the laws” – see the Fourteenth Amendment) had swung too far from the status quo of the 1950s.

Non-Ivy League schools are no less dependent on the kindness of strangers, and in a country with a growing divide between the rich and the not-so-rich, money still talks. Indeed, the Supreme Court itself endorsed that view in its infamous Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. Money donated to political campaigns is a form of ‘free speech,’ regardless of how costly that speech may be. Whoever has the most money has the loudest voice, and in 2023 America that loudest voice is subsidized by the billionaires with agendas intent upon maintaining their privileged status and promoting their personal philosophies. Compensating for the centuries of discrimination and repression experienced by African-Americans is not on that agenda. Enabling more African-Americans to acquire the academic credentials that will facilitate their admission to corporate board rooms is not on that agenda.

This judicial subservience to moneyed interests is not a new phenomenon in English-speaking and other nations. During much of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, judgeships were auctioned off. The stipends for serving as a judge were not what drove this trade in judgeships: it was the bribes.  It was generally recognized that many if not most judgments in disputes between parties could be resolved by paying off the judge, rather than relying on oral arguments. Of course, no well-informed American would dare suggest that Supreme Court judges are susceptible to bribes or similar considerations. Each is well-paid and provided staff, office space, healthcare, and retirement benefits without the burden of any Congressional oversight or annual performance reviews.

They, of course, are as entitled to “gifts” from admiring citizens, as are any Americans. Unfortunately, what constitutes a legitimate “gift” gets more difficult to define when the “gift” is hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free travel, all-expenses paid vacations, rent free housing for relatives, consulting fees for spouses, etc. These gifts get even more questionable when the justices receiving them see no need to disclose them. The gifts go well beyond the realm of questionable when the sources of these valuable goods and services derive from the kindness of millionaires and billionaires whose appreciable wealth or dearly held convictions will be affected by Supreme Court decisions. I wonder how familiar this scenario would be to Elizabeth I? I doubt that she would be shocked.

The Court decided race should play no role in admissions to universities and colleges, even though it is widely recognized that race has and does play a negative role for African-Americans.  The Court decided that America is color-blind and is a meritocracy, even though the most successful African-Americans (e.g., Clarence Thomas) would choke on those words if forced to make that claim. The ‘conservative’ majority on the Court agreed with their aristocratic sponsors that accommodations for those struggling to achieve the American dream are no longer necessary. That majority left standing the privileges of the privileged.

Legacies will be honored. Endowments will be noted. Political string-pulling will remain effective. But race may not be taken into consideration, because in America anyone with considerable wealth, venerable ancestors, powerful political connections, or access to private jets and yachts on which to entertain Supreme Court ‘justices’ can get their child admitted to the school of their choice.  The Supreme Court majority has declared the playing field is level for all Americans, regardless of race. Those wise jurists might be interested in a bridge in Brooklyn I am hoping to sell.

Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan.  He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France.

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