Outside the Bubble 4/24/14

Supreme Court Affirmative Action Decision


On Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on the consideration of race in college admissions in a 6-2 decision. Justices Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor did not agree, and Sotomayor wrote a 58-page dissenting opinion (ABC News, “High Court Upholds Mich Affirmative Action Ban,” 2.22.2014).

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his opinion that he believed their decision did not bear on whether affirmative action was legitimate, but whether the lower Michigan court which threw out the ban earlier this year had the authority to do so. Since the ban was democratically adopted, the Court ruled that the lower Michigan court did not have the authority to throw it out, and asserted that his ruling was most concerned with the constitutionality of striking down a voter-supported bill.

However, Sotomayor wrote that the ruling was a failure to protect historically marginalized groups in American society. In fact, minority enrollment is down in Michigan state universities, as well in many of the other states which have enacted similar bans (Arizona, California, Florida, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington) (Reuters, “U.S. top court upholds Michigan ban on college affirmative action,” 2.22.14).

Civil rights groups and liberal advocates have opposed the ban and voiced concern that the ban denies minority students the right to equal protection under the law. One civil liberties union lawyer who appeared before the Court, Mark Rosenbaum, argued that banning race from consideration was unfair because athletic ability and legacy status are still considered legitimate in admissions decisions. However, conservatives who have supported the ban hope that it will reduce race-based resentments. A statement from the White House said that President Obama feels that the consideration of race in college admissions can be appropriate in certain circumstances, but did not make any firm stance in defense of affirmative action.

The decision itself did not comment on the constitutionality of affirmative action policies. In fact, the Supreme Court upheld an institution’s right to make admissions decisions while considering race as a factor last year. The decision only explicitly dealt with the constitutionality of the ban. However, the dissenting Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor expressed outrage and deep concern at the decision (Time, “Supreme Court: States Can Ban Affirmative Action Policies,” 2.22.2014).


Sherpas in Nepal protest working conditions


Hundreds of Sherpa mountain guides have decided to leave Mount Everest, confirming a walkout certain to disrupt a climbing season that was marked by grief over the many lives lost last week in Everest’s deadliest disaster. Earlier Tuesday, Nepal’s government appeared to have agreed to some of the Sherpas’ demands in the threatened boycott. These solutions include setting up a relief fund for Sherpas who are killed or injured in climbing accidents, but the funding falls well short of what the Sherpas wanted (CBS, “Most Sherpa guides depart from Mount Everest after deadliest disaster”, 4.22.14).

Mount Everest is now far more popular than most of the world’s other high peaks, with as many as 600 people a year reaching the summit, more than half of them Sherpas who are mostly members of a small ethnic group renowned for their skill at mountaineering (The New York Times, “Sherpas Delay Everest Climbs in Labor Fight”, 4.22.14).

Tensions were coursing through Mount Everest’s base camp on Tuesday after a rowdy meeting where, according to people who were present, two-thirds of the Sherpas opted to cancel planned ascents. As a few teams of climbers packed their bags and began the long journey out of the Himalayas, two veteran expedition leaders left the camp by helicopter for an emergency meeting with Nepalese officials in an effort to avert a shutdown.

“I would like to go back to my Sherpas and say, ‘Look, guys, I got what you wanted,’” said Phil Crampton, the owner of Altitude Junkies, a mountaineering company, in a telephone interview. “We want the Sherpas happy, we want the government happy and we want our clients happy. The bottom line is that if at the end of the day, the Sherpas aren’t happy, we will comply and cancel our expedition.” (NYT).

The move would leave hundreds of climbers currently at Everest base camp without any safe and reliable way to get up the world’s tallest peak.But many climbing veterans were taking the developments in stride, and they showed solidarity with the Sherpa community.

“People are sad, people are sad at the loss of life,” veteran climber and Everest blogger Alan Arnette told NBC News on Tuesday, after speaking with friends at the mountain. “When you go there, you get to know those Sherpas, you bond with them … I don’t know anyone over there who’s not very emotional” (NBC, “Angry Sherpas to Ditch Mount Everest Following Tragedy”, 4.22.14).

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