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Monday, January 14, 2013

Sotomayor and Affirmative Action

From CBS's "60 Minutes" on its interview of Justice Sonia Sotomayor (h/t Weasel Zippers):
Affirmative action played a role in her admittance to Princeton, she recalls, and she remembers it drawing the scrutiny of an adult at her Catholic school in the Bronx. "The first day I received in high school a card from Princeton telling me that it was possible that I was going to get in, I was stopped by the school nurse and asked why I was sent a possible and the number one and the number two in the class were not," she recalls. "Now I didn't know about affirmative action. But from the tone of her question I understood that she thought there was something wrong with them looking at me and not looking at those other two students," says Sotomayor.
There are a couple of points that could be taken away from this. First, though, the implication from the paragraph is that at least two better qualified students had applied for Princeton and been denied. There is no suggestion that because of her race, Sotomayor was disadvantaged vis-a-vis these other students. She was, at the least, attending the same private school. Thus, it appears from the paragraph I've quoted that, absent "affirmative action," Sotomayor was not qualified for admission to Princeton.

So, what could we deduce? One is how affirmative action undermines merit. That is, there were at least two students in Sotomayor's school that had, presumably through their own efforts, earned better grades, yet were not merited an opportunity to attend Princeton. Presumably other students at other schools were better academically qualified. Yet all of these other more qualified students were discriminated against because of their skin color.

The other point is, assuming Sotomayor's subsequent success was due to merit, how accurate are the criteria that Princeton uses for admission? Again, absent her genetic background, Sotomayor would presumably not have been admitted to Princeton. Thus, somehow, Princeton's selection process must have been somehow flawed that it would have otherwise passed over Sotomayor. Or, if it was not flawed, then admitting Sotomayor meant that the school passed over another candidate that would have been more successful and contributed more to society than Sotomayor.

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