A noted legal scholar considers the always-contentious debate over affirmative action.
Kennedy (Harvard Law School; The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency, 2011, etc.) continues his strong track record of making thorny conversations about race and the law accessible to general readers, discussing complicated issues and court cases in a lucid, forceful fashion. He begins by observing that, despite being a son of the Jim Crow South, his own productive life was certainly enhanced by affirmative action: “I have often been shown special attentiveness in competitive settings in which my blackness was perceived as a plus.” Kennedy writes powerfully about the complex development of affirmative action as a largely unanticipated outgrowth of the struggle between the civil rights movement and Jim Crow. He then examines the major Supreme Court cases dealing with affirmative action in education, noting that while the well-known Bakke decision of 1978 seemingly protected affirmative action, it produced the “regrettable misjudgment [that] remedying social discrimination is an inadequate justification” for such programs, a feint pursued by conservatives ever since. Kennedy produces a narrative of the subtle changes over time in public response to and perceptions of affirmative action in support of his argument that it’s more fragile than generally realized, and it's worth continuing: “Ending it prematurely would be a major calamity.” While the author is willing to consider the various counterarguments suggesting that affirmative action is fundamentally unfair or has run its course, including a thoughtful chapter on the legal concept of “color blindness,” he repeatedly asserts that his “central concern” in considering affirmative action is “the unfinished business of rectification and integration [given] segregation is not far away historically.” Lay readers with an interest in affirmative-action controversies should find him both fair and tough-minded.
A strong synthesis of legal precedents and historical narratives.