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Top Questions from our Q&A on the Affirmative Action Decision

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled a U.S. Court of Appeals didn't properly apply strict scrutiny of the University of Texas's affirmative action process. SCOTUS stopped short of ruling whether the policies are discriminatory, and instead sent the case back down to the appeals court for review.

Will the SCOTUS decision impact affirmative action policies? Could a system based on income inequality replace them? Reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones took to Reddit's IamA forum Tuesday to answer your questions. 

Nikole’s been covering the Abigail Fisher case since March, when she reported that Fisher’s rejection from the University of Texas in Austin had more to do with her grades and test scores than her race. She’s also covered the affirmative action case from Michigan the Supreme Court has agreed to hear.

Here's some highlights from our Reddit chat, which covered affirmative action, voting rights, and everything in between (it wouldn't be Reddit without a question about sandwiches). You can see the full discussion here.

Has affirmative action become an antiquated form of reverse racism or do minorities still need more time to achieve social and economic equality? — Cliftern

Let's just start with a pet peeve of mine. I don't believe such a thing as reverse discrimination exists. Either you are discriminated against or you are not. That fact doesn't change if you are white. I think that affirmative action, like many remedies that came out of the civil rights movement, is an imperfect solution. But there cannot be easy, perfect or painless solutions to addressing centuries of legalized racial discrimination and its impacts. Remember, we're only four decades removed from legal segregation and many of those systems created over centuries were never eliminated.

Affirmative action at the college level attempts to address the stark racial inequalities that remain in the K-12 system. If we think we have solved those, then that answers the question about the continuing need for affirmative action.

At this point, what does Fisher really have to gain? She has already graduated from LSU; will she be getting financial compensation or is this about bragging rights?  — Cliftern

Fisher has nothing tangible to gain. She only asked for $100 in damages for the application and deposit she paid. Though if she really believes affirmative action is wrong then she could have seen a favorable ruling as her playing role in a win for justice. However, with the SCOTUS declining to rule on the merits of UT's system of considering race, it's hard to see how she gained anything from it, really. But as I've reported, this case was never really about Abigail Fisher from Sugar Land, TX. A conservative group looking to dismantle the use of race by government shopped for plaintiffs to challenge UT's system and found Fisher.

Also, some argued, including Justice Sotomayor that because Fisher had already graduated from another school she did not even have standing to bring the case in the first place. Obviously, enough justices were not concerned about that.

What signal do you think the SCOTUS is sending about the state of entrenched racial discrimination in this country by punting on Affirmative Action (Fisher) yesterday and gutting the Voter Rights Act (Shelby County) today? — ImranP

Is this a trick question? Just kidding. In reading the words of the opinions, the conservative justices made it clear that they no longer see entrenched racial discrimination as a major American problem any longer. They believe the nation should move on, and that the time for constitutional flexibility that allows the government to consider race to remedy the effects of discrimination is over.

Does the Constitution 'time out' like that? I had thought the conservative wing of the court was more of the attitude that the constitution remains itself even though culture changes around it. It seems like a strange argument to hear from them... — plentyof

Yeah, it is, really. Many have argued that a strict constructionist reading of the Constitution would be that Congress in passing the 14th and 15th Amendments meant for the Constitution to allow the use of race to help subordinated minorities overcome the effects of former servitude and discrimination. For instance, the same Congress that voted in these amendments also created the Freedmen's Bureau to help former slaves and created black colleges to ensure their education.

How does Roberts support his claim that the "country has changed" when we just saw a whole slate of Southern voter suppression laws this past year? — Mopehead123

No one can argue the country hasn't changed. My father was born in the Jim Crow South in a Mississippi town where black men were lynched for failing to move off the sidewalk for a white woman. But I think what characterizes much of the modern-day conversations about race and inequality is this notion that because we no longer have explicitly racist laws and politicians do not (at least most of the time) say explicitly racial things...that this means race and racism is no longer a major problem. But I think it is important to understand that many of the civil rights protections passed during the 60s had already been passed during the Reconstruction congress a century earlier. White Americans just found ways around those laws, including things such as poll taxes and voting tests that they called "race-neutral" but were passed with the intent and outcome of denying black Southerns (and Northerners in some places) the right to vote.

What do you think is a story in every community dealing with civil rights that any local news organization can/should do (and chances are haven't)? — Amadeus3000

I think that stories dealing with school inequities that make affirmative action necessary (that black and Latino students of varying incomes often attend schools with few college prep classes and large numbers of inexperienced, under-qualified teachers) are important because they get beyond the post-racial rhetoric that often surrounds discussions of cases such as these to show the racial reality.

Christie Thompson

Christie Thompson was an intern at ProPublica. She studied journalism at Northwestern University, and has written for The Nation, The Chicago Reporter and

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