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Coloradans anticipating landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action

Coloradans anticipating landmark SCOTUS ruling on affirmative action
Coloradans anticipating landmark SCOTUS ruling on affirmative action 02:37

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments on two key cases involving affirmative action.

The justices will weigh whether universities can consider race in their admissions decisions. The hearing is focusing on policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.  Many observers anticipate a ruling next summer that could overturn 50 years of precedent.

CBS News Colorado spoke to two Colorado women with different views on the matter before the high court.  

Darlene Sampson has worked as an administrator at the K-12 and university level and specializes in working with organizations on the value of diversity, equity and inclusion.  Sampson holds a PhD in Educational Leadership and credits affirmative action for her success and that of generations of Black men and women like her.

She said, "If someone had not seen us, if they had not wondered about our skills, if they didn't understand our life experiences we probably would be looked over." 

Darlene Sampson, top row, first on left, recalls often being the only Black woman in higher education settings. Darlene Sampson

Sampson says that while universities across the country have made great strides to value diversity, the work to undo what she calls "metastisized inequities" in our country is only just beginning.

"Nine states have already abolished affirmative action and they are barely making the grade for diversity in their universities. So without very intentional ways of looking at diversity we will turn the clock backwards," Sampson said.

Priscilla Shaw Rahn is a master music teacher and chair of the Asian Education Advisory Council at Denver Public Schools.  Shaw Rahn opposes race-based admissions. 

She said, "I grew up in a culture where you have to work hard, you study hard, you excel and that is the equalizer in the world. You just work hard and you get into programs based on your merit." 

Priscilla Shaw Rahn with her family at her college graduation. Priscilla Shaw Rahn

The group Students for Fair Admissions, founded by conservative activist Edward Blum, alleges that race-based admissions results in discrimination against Asian American students. 

"You can't put your thumb on the scale and intentionally discriminate against one group in order to help another group.  That is not the definition of equity," Shaw Rahn said.

Sampson hopes the questions and observations posed by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson during Monday's hearing will open minds across the country, if not change the outcome of these cases.  Justice Jackson is recusing herself from the Harvard case.  She attended Harvard and served on its board. But she will hear the North Carolina case. 

"We can't pretend that we're color blind, because we're not.  You see this brown face, we're not color blind," Sampson said.

US Supreme Court

Shaw Rahn says she looks forward to the court's decision, "How do we create diversity without using race or gender as a deciding factor and so I'm not opposed to looking at different ways of creating a diverse pool."

A sign of the intense interest in the affirmative action cases: a historic number of amicus or "friends of the court" briefs have been filed with the high court.

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