A Legacy of Discrimination: The Essential Constitutionality of Affirmative Action

By Lee C. Bollinger and Geoffrey R. Stone

As U.S. Supreme Court Considers the Future of Race-Conscious Admissions Policies in Higher Education, two Eminent Constitutional Scholars Weigh in

Affirmative Action policies spark visceral reactions across American society. Some believe we do not have enough of it; others believe we have too much of it. Nearly everyone who has applied for a job or admission to a selective college or university has an opinion about affirmative action, ranging from enthusiastic support to fierce opposition.

In anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in two cases, Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina, expected in late spring or early summer of 2023, Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger and University of Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey R. Stone have just released a book that offers a full-throated defense of affirmative action.

In their book, A Legacy of Discrimination: The Essential Constitutionality of Affirmative Action, the coauthors argue that America’s obligation to remediate past discrimination based on race is not only constitutionally permissible, it is morally mandated.

Tracing the policy to its origins back to the most important Supreme Court case of the 20th century, 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, through the Civil Rights Movement and five decades’ worth of legal challenges to the policy, Bollinger and Stone contend that those who believe affirmative action creates more problems than it corrects, or is a solution to a problem that is no longer a problem, are misguided, because in contemporary America, the Black lived experience remains, for too many, separate and unequal. 

“You cannot assume that the world will get better and better. It requires constant effort to make the case.”

Lee C. Bollinger

Articles and Interviews

Lee Bollinger laments the ruling by America’s Supreme Court against affirmative action. The Economist. June 29, 2023.

Lee Bollinger: Affirmative action decision is a ‘tragedy’ in the fight against racial discrimination. MSNBC. June 29, 2023.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Affirmative Action in College Admissions. The Wall Street Journal. June 29, 2023.

Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, laments loss of trust in academiaThe Washington Post. June 29, 2023. 

Supreme Court rejects race-based affirmative action in college admissions. The Washington Post. June 29, 2023. 

Elite Colleges Lose Diversity ‘Shortcut’ After Harvard's DefeatBloomberg. June 29, 2023. 

Key voices in the decades-long debate over affirmative action. Reuters. June 29, 2023. 

College Presidents Are All Over the Map About the End of Race in Admissions. The Chronicle of Higher Education. June 29, 2023. 

Supreme Court overturns Bollinger’s landmark case on affirmative action. Columbia Daily Spectator. June 29, 2023.  

‘Something profound is at stake’: Bollinger reacts to Supreme Court’s affirmative action ruling. Columbia Daily Spectator. June 29, 2023. 

Lee Bollinger’s Last-Ditch Case to Save Affirmative Action. Time. April 11, 2023.

With affirmative action at risk, Bollinger’s new book offers sharp defense. Columbia Daily Spectator. February 28, 2023. 

Appearance on Amanpour & Co. PBS. November 4, 2022.

President Bollinger Weighs In on Affirmative Action Cases Being Argued Before the Supreme Court. Columbia News. October 31, 2022.

The End Of Affirmative Action Would Be A DisasterThe Atlantic. October 31, 2022.