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The Corporate Case for Affirmative Action

Students walk through the University of Texas at Austin campus
Students walk through the University of Texas at Austin campusPhotograph by Eric Gay/AP Photo

On Wednesday, Oct. 10, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether universities may favor racial minorities in admissions. The case presents a delicate constitutional question about the meaning of “equal protection” and poses a major test for John Roberts, the Republican chief justice who last June outraged many conservatives by joining four Democratic colleagues to uphold President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul. Will Roberts again defy ideological expectations to endorse affirmative action in undergraduate admissions? Or, more likely, will he reiterate his past opposition to race-conscious policies—and in the process, make clear that his deciding vote on Obamacare was an anomaly in political terms?

If large corporations have their way, Roberts will lean left and find a way to justify racial preferences. Business, especially big business, began to embrace affirmative action in the 1980s. Corporations do not want the Supreme Court to condemn preferences in broad terms, potentially exposing employers to a new wave of reverse-discrimination suits filed by white applicants and employees.