Excellent article in The New York Review of Books on the Michigan affirmative action cases. The essay by Ronald Dworkin, written before the Supreme Court rulings, discusses both the social and legal aspects of affirmative action.
It is sometimes said that college and university applicants have a right to be judged only on narrow academic criteria, but that cannot be seriously maintained. Places in selective universities are not merit badges or prizes for some innate talent or for past performance or industry: they are opportunities that are properly offered to those who show the most promise of future contribution to goals the university rightfully seeks to advance. These goals can be, and historically have been, social as well as more narrowly academic.
Universities say they are training the nation’s and the world’s future leaders: if it is best for the nation that its leaders more closely match the diversity of its citizens, then no one is cheated by universities who include that goal among their aims.