seal  Purdue News

June 9, 2003

Experts consider public opinion in landmark race case

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – While America waits for the Supreme Court's decision that could affect race relations in this country, two Purdue University political science professors are measuring what black Americans think about the affirmative action decision.

"The University of Michigan affirmative action case has the potential to be a landmark case in American history," said Rosalee Clawson, a political science professor who will survey public opinion before and after the Supreme Court's ruling, which is expected this month. "We need to understand the public opinion surrounding this case because it is so important from a public policy point of view. From a theoretical perspective, we want to gain an understanding of whether, and how, the Supreme Court ruling can throw a cloak of legitimacy over a controversial public policy like affirmative action."

Clawson is working with Eric Waltenburg, a Purdue court expert in political science who is researching Supreme Court legitimacy and organized interests litigation behavior. Katherine Tate from University of California at Irvine also is contributing to the study.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision on the two affirmative action cases challenging the University of Michigan's minority-based admission point system. In 1978 the Supreme Court issued a complicated ruling upholding affirmative action in the Bakke case, Clawson said. The University of Michigan decision is expected to have ramifications in academic and corporate settings.

Telephone surveys, which began in May, are sampling black Americans nationally regarding the Supreme Court affirmative action case. The same people also will be interviewed after the court's decision.

"The data from this survey will tell us whether the Supreme Court's decisions have an impact in terms of affecting public opinion," Waltenburg said. "We also will learn about responses from black Americans, a very important minority group who will experience the consequences of this decision."

Historically, the Supreme Court has served as an institution that protects minority rights, said Clawson, an expert in public opinion and media. But in the 1990s, the Supreme Court delivered a series of rulings in smaller cases that have redefined the court's role in protecting minority rights, she said.

"This case has the potential to have huge ramifications. If the court issues a broad ruling, as opposed to a narrow ruling, the decision will have sweeping effects for the nation," said Clawson, who examines the Supreme Court's ability to shape public opinion on racial issues and how the media frames the court's decisions.

Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Sources: Rosalee Clawson, (765) 494-7599,

Eric Waltenburg, (765) 494-6309,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

NOTE TO JOURNALIST: Purdue political science professors Rosalee Clawson and Eric Waltenburg will be available to speak about the Supreme Court's ruling on the University of Michigan affirmative action case. Clawson can be reached at (765) 494-7599 or Waltenburg can be reached at (765) 494-6309 or before June 23.

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