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Book Chapter

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Opponents of affirmative action in higher education commonly cite two principles to justify their opposition. One is that admissions to institutions of higher education should be based on "merit," which is often treated by critics of affirmative action as consisting of little more than test score results and high school or undergraduate grades. The second is the legal and moral imperative of not making consequential decisions based on race. We shall not address these principles except to note that others have shown that they do not make the case against affirmative action (Carbado & Harris 2008, Shultz & Zedeck 2011, Prager 2003, Krieger & Fiske 2006, Kang & Banaji 2006, Kang 2012) and to suggest that the weaknesses of arguments derived from these principles are an important reason for the empirical effort to suggest that affirmative action hurts rather than helps its intended beneficiaries, the claim this paper reviews. If these claims were correct it would not matter if the legal and moral case against affirmative action is built on sand, which is perhaps why some leading critics of affirmative action seek to bolster their constitutional and moral critiques with empirical claims (e.g., Thernstrom & Thernstrom 2012a, 2012b).


This is a pre-publication version of a book chapter published by Routledge/CRC Press in Affirmative Action and Racial Equity: Considering the Fisher Case to Forge the Path Ahead, 2015, available online: