Sotomayor Praises Affirmative Action and Legacy Admissions, Doesn't Realize Those Things Are Awful

Sotomayor thinks legacy admissions are somehow helping the disadvantaged, when in reality they do the opposite.


Sonia Sotomayor
Pete Souza / White House

Though the public has steadily turned against affirmative action schemes—and courts continue to limit their use—Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor remains a steadfast defender of race-based college admissions.

In an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, Sotomayor offered an interesting glimpse into her mindset on the issue. She maintained that race-based affirmative action was the only reliable way to ensure campus diversity.

Stephanopoulos asked her whether it made more sense for admissions offices to consider regional or economic background instead of race. Her answer was definitive:

Well, the problem with that answer is that it doesn't work. It's not that I don't believe it works, I don't think the statistics show that it works. It just doesn't.

But perhaps more shocking was that she defended affirmative action by likening it to legacy admission—a practice that virtually everyone who knows about it hates (some 75 percent of Americans, according to The New York Times), except Sotomayor, apparently:

Look, we have legacy admissions. If your parents or your grandparents have been to that school, they're going to give you an advantage in getting into the school again. Legacy admission is a wonderful thing because it means even if you're not as qualified as others you're going to get that slight advantage.

Is it "wonderful" that the scions of politically and financially well-connected families get to be judged on their last names, rather than on their academic merit? It seems like Sotomayor thinks legacy admissions are somehow helping the disadvantaged, when in reality they do the opposite.

This isn't abstract, theoretical, or even disputable. In 2009, Princeton accepted 40 percent of applicants whose parents were alumni, according to Inside Higher Ed. That was 4.5 times higher than the rate of admission for non-legacy applicants. People who didn't have famous parents got penalized when they applied to Princeton, plain and simple. That's the system Sotomayor just said was "wonderful."

Why should admittance to elite colleges be inherited like an aristocratic title? And why on earth would a Supreme Court justice whose ostensible concern is fostering diversity and assisting disadvantaged minorities be in favor of such a system?

Foes of inequality who criticize race-based affirmative action should demand the end of legacy admissions with equal fervor. It boggles the mind to think they would have Sotomayor against them in this fight, too.

Read Reason's Shikha Dalmia on why legacy preferences are the "original sin" of admissions policies.