Since Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the U.S. Supreme Court has viewed itself as the enlightened molder of social consensus, leading the recalcitrant political branches to reach progressive outcomes demanded by social justice. Sometimes (as with desegregation) the Court manages to get in front of the parade of public opinion, and sometimes (as with same-sex marriage) the Court forces unruly voters to accept a particular end result. But, as with abortion, sometimes the Court miscalculates, becoming enmired in an intractable political dispute. And in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), the Court—fueled by the conceit of its superior wisdom—divined a “solution” to disparate race enrollments in higher education that has proven to be a quagmire.
Tim Groseclose has confirmed that he is one of America’s leading conservative commentators with the publication of Cheating: An Insider’s Report on the Use of Race in Admissions at UCLA. It may seem an odd role for Groseclose, for six years the Marvin Hoffenberg Chair of American Politics at UCLA and a quantitative social scientist whose innovations are widely recognized (see the list of publications on his website). He has achieved academic plaudits while openly declaring his Rush Limbaugh-listening and other rightwing proclivities.
To fully appreciate Cheating, we should start by discussing Left Turn, Groseclose’s earlier popular work about liberal media bias. Such critiques (as well as exposées of race preference in academia) are legion, but he devises formal models to measure the extent of bias or discrimination that enables all sorts of instructive comparisons. He establishes PQ measurements (political bias) of counties, cities, politicians, and media outlets. His website even contains instructions on how to calculate your own PQ.
Yesterday’s post interpreted Mass v. EPA as a Supreme Court exercise in institutional blame avoidance. Today, as threatened, a second, more incendiary example: affirmative action in higher education. With the February 21 cert grant in Fisher v. University of Texas, the question has returned to the Court; it’s worth a quick look. The precedents and their holdings are familiar. Justice Powell’s controlling opinion in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) held that universities may not use racial quotas or set-asides; however, they may use race as a “plus factor.” In the Michigan affirmative action cases, Gratz v. Bollinger…