Several justices have declared, in past cases, that though an institution may use racial classifications to compensate for its own past discrimination, it may not do so to compensate for discrimination by others or in the community as a whole. It is, in fact, doubtful that affirmative action can ever be justified as compensation, because compensation is a matter of individual, not group, entitlement, and allowing black applicants to have preference now cannot compensate generations of blacks who suffered injustice in the past. But the forward-looking social goal is very different: it justifies sensitivity to race not on the basis of any compensatory theory, but on the pragmatic assumption that securing a better racial balance in positions of prestige and influence benefits the community as a whole. Universities may properly serve that goal through their admissions procedures, just as they may legitimately choose students in order to provide a better balance in the community between corporate and civil rights lawyers, for example, or between specialist and primary care doctors.
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