Miguel Cardona Flunks Constitution 101

The education secretary is attempting to change the racial composition of American campuses by way of government intervention — precisely what the Supreme Court just found unconstitutional.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The education secretary, Miguel Cardona, at the White House on June 30, 2023. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It looks like President Biden’s education secretary needs a crash course on the Constitution. That’s what we take from Miguel Cardona’s remarks suggesting he plans to put the squeeze on America’s colleges to stamp out the practice of giving a leg up in the admissions process to the children of alumni. “I would be interested in pulling whatever levers I can pull,” he tells the AP, to eliminate this “legacy” preference in search of racial diversity.

One would think Mr. Cardona would have taken note of the most important education case to have come down from the Supreme Court in recent years, Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard. Mr. Cardona seems to have missed its meaning. The point of the case isn’t merely that Harvard and other colleges were trying to achieve racial diversity the wrong way — it’s that the pursuit of racial diversity in and of itself is unconstitutional.

Not that a diverse student body on America’s campuses is a bad thing. Quite the contrary — as long as the admissions process leading to that diversity is colorblind, as per the Constitution. In Students for Fair Admissions, Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion stresses that the 14th Amendment guarantee of the “equal protection of the laws” requires that “an individual’s race may never be used against him in the admissions process.”

The Chief Justice points to Miller v. Johnson, where the court said the “heart” of the equal protection clause is a “simple command” to “treat citizens as individuals, not as simply components of a racial, religious, sexual or national class.” So, since “college admissions are zero-sum,” the chief says, and a “benefit provided to some applicants but not to others necessarily advantages the former group at the expense of the latter,” racial preferences are forbidden.

“Eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it,” is how the Chief Justice puts it. It strikes a discordant note, then, to read that Mr. Cardona appears to be trying to circumvent the court by going after legacy admissions. The education secretary is attempting to change the racial composition of American campuses by way of government intervention — precisely what the ruling in Students for Fair Admissions just found unconstitutional.

Mr. Cardona, in his remarks to the AP, laments the end of racial preferences for college admissions, noting that the high court ruling meant “that tool was taken away.” He even suggests a national security risk, noting with concern the “steep decreases in Black and Latino enrollment” in California’s public colleges after affirmative action was banned there. “If we go the route that California went,” he asks, “what chance do we have competing against China?” 

Mr. Cardona adds that the question “is more than just ensuring diverse learning environments. This is about our strength as a country.” The AP echoes his concern, citing critics of the court who say the ruling “left admissions even more lopsided against students of color.” Yet Mr. Cardona frets that the children of alumni were unscathed. “Your last name could get you into a school, or the fact that you can write a check could get you into a school,” he said. 

This “must be revisited,” is how the AP sums up Mr. Cardona’s view, though he disavows an explicit ban. “There is no edict coming from the secretary of Education,” he said. Instead, he is threatening to withhold federal funds from colleges that fail to go along. He warns of pulling “levers” that he can manipulate “to ensure that, especially if we’re giving out financial aid and loans, that we’re doing it for institutions that are providing value.”

Where does Mr. Cardona get the idea that, absent a law passed by Congress, he has any discretion to hold back federal monies from colleges that disagree with him? This echoes the tactic used by Mr. Biden’s anti-“disinformation” campaign, decried by a federal judge as a “Ministry of Truth,” in which social media platforms were pressured to censor content the Biden White House dislikes. It all reflects a dangerous disregard for the ABCs of the Constitution.

The New York Sun

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