“The Underhandedness of Affirmative Action” is the title of Harvey Mansfield’s prescient article in National Review way back in 1984 (unfortunately not available online easily that I can find). A key sample:
To understand the threat [that affirmative action poses to constitutional government], let us return to the necessity that affirmative action conceal the help it renders its beneficiaries. As a policy, it cannot claim success, because to announce an “affirmative-action appointment” as such is to insult the recipient by implying that he would not have got it on merit. It is a peculiar policy indeed where the administrator cannot admit he has done nothing, since this is hardly “action,” yet cannot boast of doing something., lest his actions insult the beneficiary. Since the beneficiaries—the blacks, women, and others protected by affirmative action—cannot admit that they are incapable and undeserving, the only remaining solution, it seems, is to accuse the American people, or what is left of it after the protected groups have been subtracted, of discriminating against their fellow citizens on grounds of race, sex, or national origin. The unprotected must admit their guilt so that the protected do not have to admit their incapacity.
I have a simple theory about why affirmative action is on the ropes now, and likely to be finally sanctioned by the Supreme Court, after decades of prevarication and straddling on the issue. When affirmative action was mostly an issue of black-and-white (with Hispanics at the margins of the action), it could be tolerated or papered over in the interests of remediating the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and other Democrat Party-generated oppressions.
But with the arrival of large numbers of high-achieving Asians into the picture, the favoritism shown to blacks, and obvious discrimination against Asians, simply became too glaring to disguise any more. Consider the chart below, produced by The Economist magazine, contrasting the enrollment trends of Asians at CalTech (which has never embraced affirmative action in admissions) with other elite schools. There is no way to explain the disparity between CalTech and the rest without recourse to deliberate discrimination against Asians. You will see that CalTech’s Asian admissions tracks the rise of the Asian population in the U.S.
The convergence of the Ivy League schools on Asian admission rates would draw a very close look for anti-trust collusion from the Justice Department if they were for-profit corporations. (In fact, I suspect the reaction to this chart in many elite college admissions offices is, “CalTech is blowing it for the rest of us.”)