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Sotomayor on Affirmative Action in Education

Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., asked Judge Sonia Sotomayor today whether she agreed with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s prediction that race-based affirmative action would no longer be necessary 25 years after the Supreme Court’s 2003 decisions in the University of Michigan admissions cases.

“Do you believe affirmative action is more justified in education than in employment?” Sen. Kohl asked this morning.

“It is firmly my hope, as it was expressed by Justice O'Connor in her decision involving the University of Michigan Law School admissions criteria, that in 25 years, race in our society won't be needed to be considered in any situation,” Sotomayor said. “That's the hope.”

In Grutter v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan law school’s “narrowly tailored” consideration of race. Writing for the majority, Justice O’Connor said, “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

Sotomayor today noted that “we’ve taken such great strides in our society” towards the goal of eliminating race-conscious government action."

“But there are situations in which there are compelling state interests and the admissions case that Justice O'Connor was looking at, the court recognized that in the education field,” she added.

The nominee went onto note that in the companion to Grutter in 2003, Gratz v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court struck down an undergraduate admissions plan at Michigan that had categorically assigned bonus points to members of certain underrepresented minorities.

In Gratz, Sotomayor said, “the court determined that a more fixed use of race that didn't consider the individual was inappropriate, and it struck down the undergraduate admissions policy. That is what the court has said about the educational use of race in a narrow way.”

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