Supreme Court affirmative action case spurred public campaign supported by SVCF

Supreme Court Building

Since Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s 2007 launch, diversity has been a guiding principle. So when the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund sought SVCF’s support on a key affirmative action case before the U.S. Supreme Court, we didn’t hesitate to help.

It was the second time the court had considered the case, Fisher v. University of Texas. In 2013, justices sent the case back to the appellate court that had upheld the university’s race-conscious admissions program. When the lower court again ruled in the university’s favor, the Supreme Court agreed a second time to review the case. This time, however, justices rejected the challenge by a 4-3 vote.

As the court prepared to hear the case a year ago, the Legal Defense Fund mounted a campaign to articulate the importance of diversity and inclusion in higher education. By making a grant from our President’s Discretionary Fund, SVCF helped support that effort.

“Silicon Valley Community Foundation is committed to diversity and inclusion,” explained CEO Emmett Carson. “We have a long-standing tradition of valuing their importance. We knew that this case would have national implications because if you can’t foster a diverse culture within schools, then that could be a precedent for saying that those values aren’t important in other settings.”

Part of education, he says, is learning how to navigate a diverse world. Learning alongside people with different beliefs, values and cultural norms prepares students for their role in the global community.

Legal Defense Fund representatives discussed the merits of the university’s position by staging a press conference for Supreme Court reporters, through appearances on CNN, NBC, MSNBC and PBS, and by running a large advertisement about the case in the Washington Post.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Fisher case establishes the constitutionality of diversity, and in light of the 2016 presidential election, Carson believes, that will prove to be ever more important.

“Elements of white nationalism, racism, and bigotry have emerged from the election that ought to trouble everybody,” he said. “It’s easy for people to retreat into blaming someone else for their economic insecurity and their fears. In a climate where we already see an uptick in hate crimes based on religion and place of origin, Fisher helps set in stone prior law, and it will be very difficult for the Court, having just re-affirmed Fisher, to raise Fisher or a similar case again.”

The Silicon Valley region that SVCF serves is among the nation’s most diverse. One third of the area’s 2.5 million people are immigrants and almost two thirds of those younger than 18 are children of immigrants. Nearly half of the workforce in the two counties is foreign born.

“We understand the importance of bridge-building, tolerance, mutual respect, understanding and fostering a climate in which people are judged by their skills, talents and motivation,” Carson says, “and not their religious beliefs or the color of their skin or the accent in their voice.”

Read more about SVCF’s decade-long and continuing commitment to diversity and inclusion.