It is time to recognize that a well-known opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court has earned the Naked Emperor Award. This prize (which either exists or certainly should), owes its inspiration to Hans Andersen's tale, "The Emperor's New Clothes."
The emperor ordered a new gown, advertised to be invisible to anyone who was unworthy of his office, or simply stupid. The makers pretended to fashion a sumptuous garment, going through all the motions without any cloth. The emperor and other officials who observed this process-and the courtiers watching his majesty parade in his "new clothes"-actually saw nothing where the gown was supposed to be, whether on the spindle or on the emperor. Of course they couldn't admit it, fearing to expose their unworthiness or stupidity. The spell was finally broken when a child cried out: "But the emperor has nothing on at all."
The award-deserving effort is the High Court's deliberation last year in the University of Michigan Law School admissions case, Grutter v. Bollinger. At issue was the constitutionality of the school's policy, which treats applicants differently based on their race. In previous cases, the Court had decided that governmental racial discrimination is unconstitutional, unless narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest. In this case, the Court held that obtaining a "diverse" student body qualifies as such an interest, and that the Law School's use of race is a narrowly-tailored means for achieving it.
The Court gained an early lead for the Naked Emperor Award by choosing to weigh, as the possible compelling interest, a broad, general factor (diversity) that is indeterminate, unless specified in both kind and amount. Without such specification, rational deliberation and judgment would be impossible. I hope to demonstrate here that the requisite specification did not occur, making the Court superlatively eligible for the award. What could be more like an emperor's robe without cloth than constitutional law without a rational basis?
According to the dictionary, "diverse" means different. It is an attribute of everything that exists, when compared with anything different from itself. A student body may be "diverse" in any respect in which students are different from each other, such as political or religious beliefs; racial, ethnic, social, economic, regional or occupational backgrounds; physical, emotional, intellectual, artistic or moral qualities; home life, family structure, parental competence; friendships or associations; educational interests, tastes, abilities or achievements, etc., etc.
Many student differences are in fact undesirable. Others, desirable but unimportant. Others, important but unnecessary. Others, necessary but already present without special efforts. Student body "diversity" is a manifold, a huge pile of disparate, divergent, often conflicting realities. No one-including admissions committees, college presidents, and supreme courts-can make rational judgments concerning the value or necessity of this pile as a whole. But such judgments can be and are made every day, when the "diversity" is specified as to kind and amount.
The candid reader of the Grutter Court's Opinion will find that it fails to provide enough specification for rational judgment. It gives insufficient specifics as to kinds of "diversity," and almost none as to amounts.
The clearest way to specify is to be explicit: to include the necessary specifications when stating both the question for deliberation and the answering judgment. Here are typical descriptions by the Court of the issue and the ruling:
In these and the Court's other formulations of the question and the judgment, the only specification concerning "diverse" or "diversity" is that it pertains to student bodies.
Specifications may also be implicit, if they are reasonably implied by other language in a court's opinion. The following kinds of "diversity" are favorably mentioned:
Taking all these as implicit specifications, what do they tell us about the kinds and amounts of student body "diversity" that the Court has in mind? As to kinds, some are excluded, such as irrelevant elements and contributions of doubtful value. There remain all the elements and factors that "may be considered valuable contributions," including but not limited to different races, backgrounds, people, cultures, ideas, viewpoints, qualities, experiences, and achievements. As to amounts, the only specific is enough minority students to constitute a "critical mass."
The Court's implicit specifications of kinds provide both categories and examples. However, many are not very specific, being rather general (all elements considered valuable), or uncertain (all elements considered valuable). Moreover, the tone is rather like the wish-list of a child who feels free to ask for everything he'd like. Adults (and universities) have to make choices, forgoing B since getting it would leave no room or money for A. The Court sounds as if it had never met a "valuable" "diversity" it could dispense with. Is the pursuit of all of them a compelling state interest? Instead of evaluating them one by one, the Court simply assumes their necessity. These specifics as to kind are insufficient for rational deliberation.
The implicit specification of amount obviously fails, since it applies to only one of the many kinds of student differences that might be considered valuable. This leaves the Court in a ridiculous position. What it wishes to judge as one thing, student body "diversity," is actually countless things: all the possible combinations of all the possible amounts of all the possible kinds of student difference "considered valuable."
The Court has chosen to juggle innumerable balls, with no idea what most of them are or where. The conceptual muddle is illustrated by the Court's reply to a suggestion that basing admissions on a lottery would be a race-neutral means of increasing the amount of racial "diversity" on campus. This, said the Court, "would effectively sacrifice all other educational values, not to mention every other kind of diversity." (p 28) Using a lottery would indeed sacrifice the school's freedom to choose the most promising applicants, but it would not sacrifice every kind of diversity other than racial. On the contrary, many kinds that might be considered valuable would be increased. A lottery would produce an entering class "more like America" (not only in race and ethnicity but) in parentage, home life, upbringing, personalities, opinions, tastes, social class, economic level, religious belief, and political affiliation, than the admission standards upheld in Grutter. Given the scope of student body "diversity," it is not surprising that the Court has no clear idea what it has pondered and judged.
By failing adequately to specify the subject of deliberation, the Court precluded a rational judgment. It undertook two logically impossible tasks:
Such conduct, and its effect on public regard for the judicial process, were self-inflicted wounds. Nothing in the nature of "diversity" required the Court to do what it could not. It was free, under reason and law, to frame the question in a way that could be answered. Rather than student body "diversity" in general, the subject of deliberation could easily have been student body "diversity," specified in kind and amount. For example, the Court might have weighed, as a possible compelling interest, the Law School's stated goal of enrolling "underrepresented" minority students (kind of diversity) in sufficient numbers for extensive campus interracial interaction (amount). But, without such specification, deliberation and judgment concerning student body "diversity" as a possible compelling state interest must always be foolish, arbitrary and unacceptable.
If anyone doubts that the Naked Emperor Award belongs to the Grutter majority, consider that they have even improved on the original. In the story, the illusion lasted only a few days. With the Court, it's been over a year and counting.